The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Good afternoon. I call the National Assembly for Wales to order.
1. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with members of the UK Government regarding maximising the benefits of HS2 for Wales? OAQ(4)1631(FM)
Discussions with the United Kingdom Government are ongoing and we are consistently pressing the case to maximise the benefits to Wales from the UK Government’s investment in HS2.
I am sure, First Minister, that you are aware that there is a suggestion that work in the Crewe area is being brought forward so that Crewe can become a hub for the network. There is some concern in north Wales that the connections between north Wales and Crewe could be affected. Bearing in mind that one of your Ministers chairs a working group looking at transport in the north-east, will you commit as a Government to doing the best you can to ensure that those connections do benefit from that investment in the Crewe area?
We are aware of the importance of ensuring that the connections to Crewe are strengthened. We have said so to the United Kingdom Government and understand that that is extremely important in order to ensure that the benefit accruing from HS2 will be the optimum for the people of north Wales.
Further to your answer to that question, First Minister, I am confident that HS2 has the potential to provide huge benefit to north Wales. May I ask you this? Will you acknowledge that HS2 will strengthen the business case for electrifying the north Wales line, and will you commit to working alongside the Secretary of State for Wales, David Jones, to deliver the strongest possible case for investing in our north Wales railways?
We have been doing just that, but I should declare, of course, that we would not pay for it; it is not devolved.
There are very real concerns that the existence of HS2 will create significant challenges for the Welsh economy, with KPMG accountants, for example, suggesting that the Welsh economy could lose hundreds of millions of pounds per annum as a result. Therefore, it is crucial that expenditure on improving the transport infrastructure of Wales happens simultaneously with the HS2 developments. Does the First Minister agree that that in itself is a basis for ensuring that Wales gets a full consequential from HS2 expenditure?
Well, the problem is, of course, that, because this has not been devolved, there is no consequential. Our view, and he Silk commission’s view, is that this should be devolved in future and then, of course, additional funding would come with any new investment. It is exceptionally important, of course, to ensure that we are able to proceed with the electrification of the main railway line in south Wales, and also the Valleys lines, and discussions are taking place between ourselves and the United Kingdom Government in order to ensure that that happens.
The Economic Prospects for Wales
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the economic prospects for Wales over the next twelve months? OAQ(4)1639(FM)
Over the last year, the labour market in Wales has outperformed the rest of the UK. We trust that this trend will continue, and we are making the most of devolved powers to continue to improve our economic prospects.
I thank the First Minister for that response. With the Welsh unemployment rate now below the UK average, would he agree with me that the UK coalition Government is being extremely hypocritical by trying to claim credit for the Welsh economy’s relatively good state of health, while, at the same time, incorrectly pointing the finger of blame at the Welsh Government in other areas, such as health?
Indeed. The rate of improvement of the Welsh economy has outstripped the rest of the UK, and that is because of the policies that we have put in place as a Welsh Government. The party opposite has a habit of trying to pinch announcements; Avox near Wrexham being one, of course. The Prime Minister turned up at a company that came to Wales as a result of a meeting that I had in New York when I was there with the same company. The UK Government did absolutely nothing in terms of bringing that investment in. However, there we are; it is in the nature of the Conservative party to claim credit for everything and anything that is positive without actually putting the work in, in the first place.
I am sure that the First Minister will agree that he is very grateful that we have actually avoided the double-dip recession that his party was so keen to impose upon us. May I also ask the First Minister whether he would agree that one of the overriding factors for a prosperous country is an adequate transport system? With regard to the many delays this morning on the M4, would he commit to making that a priority?
The Member will know, of course, what our plans are in terms of the M4, particularly around Newport. However, it is important that there is a speedy resolution in terms of the electrification of the main line and the Valleys lines.
Referring to your comments on the economy, there is a report this morning saying that there were 46,000 fewer jobs in Wales in 2013 compared to 2008. That pattern is also very typical of the regions of England. It is only the south-east of England that shows a large growth in the number of permanent jobs. That is hidden to an extent by growth in the self-employed sector, but many of those are part-time posts, according to the analysis. Do you accept that having an economy in Britain where this massive growth takes place in one part, while the rest of the regions and nations are suffering, is a mistake and in fact actually undermines a prosperous economic future for all parts of Britain?
Yes, that is true in my opinion. There has been too much emphasis on growing the economy in London and the south-east of England. That is why we as a Government have been robust in endeavouring to ensure that our policies improve the situation, particularly in terms of young people and Jobs Growth Wales, and particularly bearing in mind that the rate of unemployment in Wales has fallen significantly and now we are in a situation where there is less unemployment in Wales than is the case in England, Scotland and northern Ireland. Having said that, it is important to realise that things are not entirely rosy at present, and it is exceptionally important that we ensure that the economy grows for the future and that the UK Government plays its role too.
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
First this afternoon, I call on the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, do you consider it fair that someone who lives in Rhyl is nearly five times more likely to suffer from cancer than someone who lives in the centre of Cardiff?
No. We know that there are real differences in terms of cancer, in terms of people contracting cancer, within Wales and between Wales and parts of England, and, indeed, parts of Scotland, where things are worse. This is, of course, one of the main drivers behind the cancer delivery plan, in order to iron out that inequality.
First Minister, the latest data from the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation paint a grim picture of health inequality across Wales. Figures that were released on Friday go on to show that there are parts of your own constituency in Bridgend with a standardised death rate over five times higher than that of parts of Ceredigion, and that, shockingly, in parts of our capital city, a baby is over 26 times more likely to be born underweight than in parts of Wrexham. Could you outline to the Chamber what you have done since you came to power in 2011 to address these inequalities?
We have done much, as she will know. We have, for example, introduced Jobs Growth Wales for young people. We have, of course, ensured that there are more apprenticeships available, so that people can get work. We have introduced Communities First, and are targeting health issues within Communities First areas. However, I have to say to the Member that her party has supported changes to the benefits system that have destroyed the ability of many, many people to enjoy good health. So, yes, we have a proud record of what we have done as a Government, but she must explain herself, and her party’s position, with regard to iniquitous policies such as the bedroom tax.
First Minister, health inequalities in Wales are growing—they are getting worse—and the actions that you have taken to date have not addressed that trend. Now, in your programme for government, you had an entire section on how important reducing health inequalities was to your administration, and I support that. However, the reality tells us that something very different is going on—they are getting worse. Is it not the case that your Government has talked about addressing public health, while at the same time the health of the people of Wales continues to be determined by their postcode?
Well, no. As the Member will know, there is a public health White Paper at the moment for people to consider, and there is a health inequity plan, which has been drawn up as well as part of that process, in order to address those particular issues. I say to her again that she cannot escape the fact that her party has made things worse, whether it is through the bedroom tax or whether it is through what we heard about today, for example, of people losing benefits unless they take zero-hours contract jobs. She must bear responsibility, along with the Conservatives in this Chamber, for making sure that those who have the least money are now worse off than before. That is something that the Lib Dems have supported strongly in London.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Next, I call on the leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, last Friday you were in Cardiff with your leader Ed Miliband walking up and down the high street and there Gareth Williams and other members of the health campaign that comes from your constituency had the opportunity to meet with Ed Miliband. Has Ed Miliband passed their comments on to you?
Do you propose then, First Minister, to take any action on those remarks they have made to him, given that they are calling for an in-depth, independent inquiry into the Welsh NHS? We know from correspondence from Sir Bruce Keogh and Chris Jones from your own Government that there are serious concerns over the mortality data within Welsh hospitals. Campaigners such as Gareth Williams, who met Ed Miliband on Friday, would have emphasised this point to him. Will you now commit, given that Ed Miliband has indicated that he believes there is merit in their argument, to having an independent inquiry into Welsh hospitals?
Well, that has been done. The Andrews review will report in the next few weeks. That review was set up with the support of Mr Gareth Williams and I would urge all people to look at the outcome of that report before taking a judgment.
Gareth Williams is quite clear. What he wants to see is a truly independent Keogh-style inquiry here in Wales. He emphasised that to Ed Miliband on Friday. The risk-adjusted mortality index data about Welsh hospitals clearly indicates that there are deep areas of concern that need to be looked at so that we can improve the outcomes for many patients within our hospitals. So that we can understand exactly what the correspondence between Sir Bruce Keogh and Chris Jones has been to date, will your Government commit to publishing it and making those data public so that we can understand exactly what the Government’s position is for withholding such an independent inquiry?
Everything is published. The reality is that, in September, when the Minister for health announced the Andrews review, Mr Gareth Williams supported that. For some reason he changed his mind. I have not been able to understand why he changed his mind in the meantime, but, nevertheless, he did. That review has finished now. A large number of people took part in that review. We await now, or the Chamber will await, the public findings of that review over the next few weeks. I believe it is important that that review has had the opportunity to investigate and it is also important, of course, to ensure that that review is able to report to the Minister and this Chamber before any further comments are made. I have to say, of course, that it is important that there is consistency in terms of letters being given and answered. I wrote to the surgeon general, for example, following the alleged comments that he made about the Welsh health service and its treatment of veterans. I have not had a response.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Finally, I call on the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
Diolch, Llywydd. Labour’s shadow Scottish Secretary has confirmed that a future UK Labour Government would retain the Barnett formula but that Wales’s claim to extra resources would be recognised. If this is true, why did the First Minister not make this announcement?
I have said many, many times that I want to see the issue of Wales’s funding addressed and many, and many times I have said that I believe Barnett should be reviewed. However, the reality is that we know Wales is underfunded to the tune of £300 million a year. I am less concerned as to how that money is found as long as it is found.
What exactly does this announcement mean, then, First Minister? How exactly will Wales’s claim to extra resources be recognised? How much more money do you expect Wales to get as a result of this recognition? When will we get it? When is the detail behind this announcement going to be made available? When can we expect to hear that detail?
In our manifesto for the general election next year as is customary.
Llywydd, I would remind Members in this Chamber of the comments made recently by the respected academic, Richard Wyn Jones, in relation to Barnett and Labour. He said:
‘One can only assume, therefore, that they are happy to concur that Wales is worth sacrificing for the cause of Union.’
He went on to say:
‘In the May 2011 devolved election, Welsh Labour presented themselves as “Standing up for Wales”. Here’s the acid test of that commitment.’
First Minister, do you accept that on Barnett and on funding you are failing Wales?
I have lost track of the argument now. She began the series of questions by saying that Margaret Curran had said that more money would be found for Wales. Now she seems to be suggesting that more money will not be found for Wales. She cannot have it both ways. The reality is that it was made quite clear that Wales will receive more money. I have said on many, many occasions that it is something that I want to see. We are underfunded by £300 million, and we will make those proposals in our election manifesto for 2015, as is customary for political parties. However, it is a wonder, is it not, that we come down here week after week after week and Plaid Cymru never attack the Tories? There is obviously something going on that we need to know about.
You are the Government. [Interruption.]
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Order. Before we move on—[Interruption.] Order. Before we move back to the questions on the paper, I am sure that Members would like to join me in welcoming members of the school council from St Illtyd’s Roman Catholic Primary School in Dowlais, who are sitting in the public gallery paying attention. I am sure that Members would like to learn from them. We now move back to the questions on the agenda.
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on CCTV coverage in mid Wales? OAQ(4)1643(FM)
The provision of closed-curcuit television in any area is, of course, a matter for the local authority and the relevant police force. It is the responsibility of the local authority, together with community safety partnerships, to assess local priorities, determine the placement of cameras and allocate funding.
I would like to thank the First Minister very much for that answer. News might have reached you of the disquiet in Aberystwyth regarding the turning off in the town and across the county of some of the CCTV coverage. This is particularly of concern to the student population, which has identified that it causes difficulty in terms of the safe route to study programme. In particular, the volunteers of the student group Nightline have, in the last several weeks, been subject to some harassment and this is directly attributable, so they tell me, to the switching off of CCTV in the area. First Minister, will you consider an invitation to meet with student representatives from Aberystwyth and me to discuss this matter, so that a solution can be brought to secure public safety in the town and further afield?
Normally, I would say ‘yes’, but the difficulty is that it is entirely a matter for the local authority in terms of what it funds, working together with the police commissioner. It is not a devolved position, so there is very little that I can offer in terms of funding, because these are matters for other authorities. Although, I do recognise the important points that the Member has raised.
I believe that the review called for by the Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed-Powys is important in these times of fiscal constraint. It is important to know whether public money is being invested properly to maximise desired outcomes, but also whether technology is being maximised to co-ordinate the best outcomes. I take note of the First Minister’s response that it is a matter for local authorities and the police commissioners, but does he agree with me that there is real benefit in having street CCTV, not only as a key asset to crime prevention, but also as a valuable tool to prosecute people who do commit crimes?
Yes, I would. I very much agree with what the Member has said about CCTV. Before I came into politics, I was a lawyer and much of my work was made up of dealing with incidents that occurred on Swansea’s Kingsway, which, in those days, was quite an interesting place of a Saturday night. When CCTV was introduced, it had the effect, happily, of reducing the amount of crime and, unhappily, of reducing the amount for my practice. [Laughter.]
First Minister, to return to Ceredigion, I remember CCTV being introduced, and it is not quite true to say that it is only down to the local authority, because it was a partnership between the local authority and the police at the time. Of course, funding sources have changed over the past decade, but, as we look forward, and accepting that CCTV is something that can have an impact on crime rates, we have also seen crime rates, in general, declining significantly in some communities, possibly because of CCTV. Could we now look anew at the evidence for locating cameras so that any public funding that is provided for that purpose is targeted correctly?
That is right. I would expect any local authority to designate areas where cameras would be effective. However, from what I understand from the initial question, every camera has been switched off in Aberystwyth, according to the Member, and that is something that the local authority should explain, because it is the local authority, working with the community safety partnership, that has the responsibility to ensure that there are cameras and that they work.
The Protection of Heritage
4. What assessment has the First Minister made concerning measures to protect Welsh heritage? OAQ(4)1638(FM)
We monitor measures to protect the historic environment and the progress made against them via the programme for government and via the legislative programme in relation to the heritage Bill.
I am grateful to the First Minister for his reply. First Minister, my question really is about those sites that often have open access, generally in public ownership, although sometimes in private ownership, and that have suffered considerable damage, unfortunately, from people using off-road four-wheel vehicles and also from people motorbiking. Most of those people are entirely responsible, but some are not. What measures can we take to protect our heritage?
Indeed, the Member is right, and there are parts of Wales where off-roading has caused a great deal of damage to those areas. I remember dealing with such issues when I was the Minister for rural affairs, at a time when devolved powers did not exist here to do anything about it. That much has changed. I know that Ministers have worked with those representing local authorities and those representing off-roading groups to find a suitable solution. It is important, of course, that people are able to use bikes off-road, but in the right circumstances, rather than in situations where they cause damage to quite historic archaeological sites.
First Minister, Cadw has a responsibility not only to care for, but also to promote all of Wales’s heritage. However, Cadw’s website and other promotional materials cover only sites directly managed by Cadw itself. Given the importance of heritage to tourism in Wales, will you instruct Cadw to promote all of Wales’s heritage sites more proactively, please?
Cadw, of course, is bound to promote those sites that are within its care and control. Many of the other sites will be privately owned and will promote themselves, but, nevertheless, it is right to say that we should ensure that all important sites of heritage are promoted and protected in Wales, and I am sure that Cadw takes its responsibility very seriously.
First Minister, it is extremely important, of course, that we revive this sector, but is it not also important that we support the staff working within it? This week, the PCS union is going to ballot in the context of the fact that many of the staff are to have their salaries cut, particularly those who work on weekends and bank holidays. Would you agree that this Government has to support those staff working in the sector so that the sector can grow here in Wales?
It is difficult to give an opinion on an individual case, but I would expect any employer in the field of heritage to employ people in an equitable manner.
Local Government Services
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the delivery of local government services in west Wales? OAQ(4)1628(FM)
Local authorities in west Wales are responsible for the delivery of the front-line services on which people rely every day. They are democratically accountable for the delivery of those services.
First Minister, if the counties of west Wales return to the old Dyfed model, as has been suggested by the Williams commission, I am given to understand that there could be an increase of some 26% in council tax for my constituents, and I am sure that you can appreciate the concerns of the people whom I represent. Bearing this in mind, what steps is the Welsh Government taking to consider the importance of protecting local identity and democratic accountability through the Williams commission process? How will the Government take into account the possible negative financial implications for residents by merging local authorities?
I understand that and, of course, I understand that that is important, particularly as regards the council tax, but the money that can be saved is huge compared with the money that would need to be found at the outset. Having said that, the Government at present is looking at what the additional costs would be at the beginning of the process, but what is evident is that we cannot continue as we are, particularly in Pembrokeshire, where there have been huge problems with education, for example. It is true to say that a number of authorities in Wales have suffered—some of them because of the fact that they are too small to deliver the services that they are duty-bound to deliver.
First Minister, in Pembrokeshire, children as young as 12 are being referred for specialist drug and alcohol treatment. How is the Welsh Government ensuring that local authorities, through the exercise of their education and social services functions, promote the prevention of substance misuse among young people?
I can give the Member two examples. More than £2 million is spent each year on the all-Wales school liaison core programme, which is a joint Welsh Government and police and crime commissioner initiative that is delivered in 98% of schools across Wales, providing substance misuse education to children and young people at key stages 1 to 4—and, yes, at key stage 1; I am afraid that it has to be done even at that age. Secondly, £2.75 million of the substance misuse action fund is ring-fenced specifically for children and young people's activities, and that has enabled children and young people to access prevention and treatment services across the country. I know that, in Pembrokeshire, a children and young people's service is providing targeted help and support to this group.
First Minister, will you give a commitment to the Chamber this afternoon that any reorganisation of local government in Wales—and in South West Wales, as the question was tabled this afternoon—will be based on ensuring that services are safeguarded and improved and presented in a more cost-effective manner, and that that will be the founding principle behind any change in the arrangements for local government in Wales?
Quite, and that is the objective of the Williams commission, and those principles are ones that we support most firmly.
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on bus services in Torfaen? OAQ(4)1642(FM)
We are committed to providing effective and affordable bus services across the whole of Wales. We have established a bus policy advisory group to advise us on maximising value for public money and securing the best possible provision of services.
First Minister, there is huge concern locally over the loss of the current Brynmawr to Cwmbran bus route that serves a number of very isolated communities in my constituency, and I was pleased to have a discussion last week with the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport about this. Thanks to the work of council colleagues, there have been some positive developments that could see an alternative operator take over the service, and while I welcome the establishment of the new best policy advisory group to take a long-term look at these issues, would you agree with me that we need to investigate all options when it comes to future bus regulation, so that operators such as Stagecoach cannot cherry-pick profitable routes when they cut and run from others, and so that we finally clear up the mess left behind by Mrs Thatcher when she deregulated the bus services in the 1980s?
I do not want to tar the whole bus industry with the same brush, but it is right to say that there is an irony in the situation in which private companies rely on public money to make a profit. There is an open question there as to whether that is the most effective use of public resources. Nevertheless, the situation is as it is. I can say that we will continue to work with the Confederation of Passenger Transport in order to achieve a satisfactory outcome for bus services, as well as the number 30 bus, as I think it is, that you referred to. It is right to say that, while some operators in Wales have decided to cut services, others have not, and that tells us something about the differences in approach that have been taken across Wales by different operators.
First Minister, when referring first to bus services in Torfaen and other areas of South Wales East, the managing director of Stagecoach said:
‘Make no mistake, ultimate responsibility for the loss of bus services and jobs lies firmly at the door of the Welsh government following years of cuts to bus investment.’
Cuts in funding to bus services will make it harder for people to go about their daily lives and will hit the elderly and disabled hardest. Why is the Welsh Government spending millions of pounds—£52 million, to be precise—on nationalising Cardiff Airport instead of investing in buses for the people walking and driving on the roads?
I am surprised, given his profession, that he does not know the difference between capital and revenue for a start. The purchase of Cardiff Airport is a capital purchase of £52 million; he is talking about an ongoing revenue subsidy, and there is a difference, as he should know, between the two. The reality is that he should be fully supporting a free market in bus services—surely, that is the point of his party—[Interruption.] He should be there saying, ‘No, no; the free market is there to provide services, and if there is no market for a service, then the service should not be provided’. That is what Conservatism is all about, surely.
He quotes Stagecoach—what I say to him is that Stagecoach is the only company that has said this; other bus companies are able to provide a service. So, the question is not one of who is to blame for this, but why Stagecoach is on its own when it comes to making these cuts. If he is saying that the bus service is not functioning as should, then I am sure he will want to call for a different type of bus regulation in the future.
First Minister, as part of Torfaen’s school and college transport review there are plans that would leave some Forgeside children having an almost 2-mile journey on an unsafe route to school. What are your comments on plans that leave some families with no choice but to make that journey on foot?
It is difficult to comment on individual circumstances, or circumstances affecting individuals, but what I can say, of course, is that the Learner Travel (Wales) Measure 2008 makes clear what we expect of local authorities in terms of the bus services they provide to schools.
7. What is the Welsh Government doing to improve the care of cancer patients in the Cynon Valley? OAQ(4)1633(FM)
We are making good progress in delivering the actions in the cancer delivery plan and will be issuing guidance in June on the role of the key worker, including access to advice services.
First Minister, it was good to note from research at the University of Bristol that Wales had a faster uptake of cancer treatment drugs recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence than England, and the Minister for health is working to increase the availability of orphan and new medicines through the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. However, treatment requires awareness, and it is important that we highlight the role of screening for cancer. What plans does the Welsh Government have to work with health boards to raise awareness and to target, in particular, those groups who may not be coming forward to be screened?
Yes, there are differences between groups in terms of who comes forward to be screened, whether it is bowel screening or breast cancer screening or, indeed, cervical screening. I can say that Public Health Wales has established a project team specifically aimed at developing a strategy to decrease inequity in screening uptake across Wales. The initial focus will be on bowel screening, but the work will encompass the other programmes as well, and that is part of the work that it will do in order to reduce the differences between different groups in terms of the uptake of screening.
The Bristol university survey also highlighted how Welsh patients were at a disadvantage in accessing cancer drugs, and that, in particular, in other parts of the United Kingdom, you are seven times more likely to access those drugs. The Minister for health announced last week that there was going to be a review of the exceptionality process here in Wales. I, along with other Members, have been championing this cause for many years. First Minister, while that review is ongoing, can you identify what changes to date have been made in the exceptionality process that will speed the process up for clinicians and, more importantly, the patients who are using that system in Wales, irrespective of what we think about a cancer drugs fund?
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The question was about the Cynon Valley, not Wales.
I suppose it would reflect on the Cynon Valley in the same way as the rest of Wales. The study showed many different things. First of all, it said that, for non-approved drugs, yes, there is faster uptake in England, but for drugs that are cost-effective and approved, there is much faster uptake in Wales. There was evidence in England that there is provision of less evidence-based treatment and more unlicensed treatment; in other words, the use of drugs of questionable effectiveness when compared with existing drugs, and the use of unlicensed drugs. There will be occasions, as the individual patient funding request has recognised, where, for some individuals, for some conditions, the use of some of those unlicensed drugs may be of benefit to them. That is what the IPFR has always recognised, but, of course, the Minister has made an announcement in terms of reviewing the way that the system operates in Wales. There is no evidence that people in Wales generally have less access to cancer drugs than in England. We know that, when it comes to approved drugs, the situation in Wales is much better.
First Minister, the care provided in the Cynon Valley is obviously very similar to the care provided in my constituency, and we also have the issue raised by the Member for the Cynon Valley: we have too many areas, such as Beddau and Rhydfelen, where those coming forward are well below the 50% rate. It seems to me, in terms of the equality agenda and also equalising life expectancies across Wales, that those disadvantaged areas where people are not coming forward must be specifically addressed by Welsh Government.
Just to reiterate the answer I gave earlier in terms of the inequity project that is being taken forward by Public Health Wales, I can say that one of the areas being looked at is Cwm Taf, which will affect the Member’s constituency as well. He raises the important point of ensuring that access to screening and take-up of screening is levelled out as much as possible across the whole of Wales.
Murco Refinery Task Force
8. Will the First Minister provide an update on the activities of the Murco Refinery Task Force? OAQ(4)1644(FM)
It held its first meeting on 15 April. We will keep Members updated on progress. The taskforce is chaired by Lord Bourne.
Thank you for that update, First Minister. As part of the ongoing discussions between the Welsh and UK Governments on the taskforce and through other channels, what discussions have there been about the lessons that could have been learnt from the Coryton refinery in Essex? When that was allowed to close in 2012 it cost businesses and the community in that area an estimated £589 million. The people of Pembrokeshire are desperate to not allow that sort of fall in their profitability to happen to them.
There are 300 jobs in the refinery. The average salary is £50,000. None of us could possibly allow ourselves to believe that those jobs could be replaced either in the short term or the medium term, which is why the refinery is so important. It would not be correct to say that there is no interest by potential buyers in the refinery. A number of discussions are still ongoing. We will continue to work to make sure that the refinery has a viable future. It is not the case that the refinery has not had investment over the past decade, because it has. It is among those refineries that have had the necessary investment to enable them to have a profitable future. We will continue to work with any potential buyers and with the current owners to make sure that that future is realised.
First Minister, I am pleased that the Welsh Government has taken steps to support the situation by establishing the taskforce, which is excellently led by Lord Bourne. Can you tell us, First Minister, what specific steps the taskforce is taking at present to safeguard these high-quality jobs? How are you working with other Government agencies to secure a future for the refinery?
We do not have any problem in working with the UK Government or the local authority to secure a future for Murco. It would be true to say that, at present, the emphasis has been put on looking at companies or individuals who could acquire the site as a refinery. The discussions on that are ongoing. I understand that the Minister will be making a statement on this issue soon.
For us in west Wales, First Minister, the refinery is as important as Tata in south Wales or Airbus in north Wales to the local economy. By now, the refinery has stopped buying crude oil for processing. Can you tell us how much capacity is left, because the estimate when something similar was done in Grangemouth temporarily was that the price of fuel locally would go up by 10p per litre as a result of the withdrawal from local supply? I have great concern as regards west Wales in relation to not just broader economic points, but to the economy locally. So, what steps are you now taking to ensure that the processing work will continue in the refinery for the benefit of the local economy, whoever the owners may turn out to be?
The future of the refinery will be secured by ensuring that there is a purchaser and that the purchaser runs the refinery. That is the way to secure the future. The Member states that Murco is as important to the area as Tata; I would say it is perhaps more important, bearing in mind the population and the employment opportunities available locally. So, that work is ongoing in order to secure, we hope, a future for the refinery as a refinery.
The UK Government has set up a Government and industry midstream oil taskforce to address the regulatory burdens that are hampering the kind of investment by plant owners that we would need to see here to increase our competitiveness. Do you join me in urging speedy action from that taskforce and in asking it to consider the specific needs and potential of the Milford Haven refinery in its discussions?
There are two points—one worth reiterating and one worth mentioning. First, it is not the case, as far as Murco is concerned, that it needs a substantial amount of investment in order to be profitable. The investment has been made, so it is in that fortunate position. The difficulty is that there is overcapacity in the refining market. Much more oil is now refined close to the source of the oil in the middle east, for example, as was the case before, and it is unfortunate that the timing is as it is, as far as Murco is concerned. There are certainly other refineries in Europe that are not as state of the art as Murco, which, in the normal course of events, would probably have closed first. So, the point that we wish to make to any potential buyer is that Murco is certainly a going concern. It is not a plant that needs a huge of amount of investment for it to be profitable in future, and that is why we believe that it has a future as long as there is an agreement between the current owners and any potential buyers.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Question 9, OAQ(4)1630(FM), has been withdrawn.
10. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s tuition fees policy? OAQ(4)1627(FM)
Yes; our policy on tuition fees recognises that students’ choice of institution and course should be driven by individual circumstances, not by the cost of fees. I am proud of our policy, which will be in place for the lifetime of this Government, and I congratulate the Minister who introduced it.
Has the First Minister seen the research by the Economic and Social Research Council, published in ‘The Guardian’ last week, which demonstrated that Welsh graduates would carry less debt than graduates from any other home nation in the UK? Has he also seen the admission recently by the UK Minister for universities that the cost of the system in England is rapidly overtaking the cost of the system that it replaced? Does this not suggest that, in Wales, our system that we introduced is working and, in England, after the next UK election, the system introduced by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will have to be scrapped?
I could not put it more eloquently than that. The reality is that, as ‘The Guardian’ article said, it pays to live in Wales. There are students in Wales who are grateful for the fact that they will not have an extra debt of £18,000 that their English colleagues will have as a result of Government policy in London. I still find it quite remarkable that the Liberal Democrats, who trumpeted the fact that there would be no tuition fees, introduced this policy and agreed to this policy; there can be truly no greater betrayal than that. We intend to keep this policy in the course of this Government’s lifetime.
First Minister, we will have the Diamond review and we expect some change in policy. So, I am wondering how some supplementary ideas could fit into any new strategy? Glyndŵr University has succeeded in designing degree courses with a shorter timescale, without losing quality, and which are, therefore, cheaper for students. Will you consider the implications of similar degrees, namely more concise degree courses, as part of any policy on tuition fees?
Of course, that is something we are prepared to consider. The fact of the matter is that whatever the length of a course, students in England will be paying more—£6,000 for one year and £12,000 for two years—so they would be paying £12,000 anyway, should it be a two-year course. The fact of the matter is that we have ensured that Welsh students are not saddled with huge debt, and we have ensured that students in Wales are in a much better position than students in England under the Conservatives and, I have to say, the Liberals.
First Minister, one of the things that young people come to me to express concern about is the fact that many of them want to go away to study in Scotland or England, for example, but that the jobs to encourage them back, or to give them the opportunity to come back, do not exist. I understand that there were ideas, under the One Wales regime, about giving some sort of grant to students to attract them back to work in Wales. Is this something that you and the Minister for Education and Skills are working on so that we can ensure that some of those young people who want to return to Wales are able to do so?
It depends what subject they are reading, in a way, in terms of whether they want to come back to Wales. I do not believe that a grant would help—what would help is that the jobs are available, of course. We are extremely fortunate that there has been growth in almost every sector in Wales, from tourism to engineering. So, there are many opportunities available to young people now that were not available in years gone by.
Communities First Clusters
11. What actions have been taken by the Communities First clusters to improve health? OAQ(4)1629(FM)
Each cluster delivers projects to help bring about healthier communities—one of the three strategic objectives of the programme. There are also national shared outcomes projects, such as Add to your Life and StreetGames, delivered with partners, which are designed to improve health and wellbeing in Communities First areas across Wales.
Thank you, First Minister. I would like to stress the importance of promoting health. I would also like to highlight the success of Communities First in Swansea East in promoting healthy eating and exercise. Will the First Minister support more being done by Communities First to reduce the number of people who are obese and the number of people smoking?
Yes. The Minister, as I outlined earlier, published the public health White Paper on 2 April and that outlines a series of legislative proposals for addressing specific public health concerns, including smoking and obesity. The consultation period is due to end on 24 June and therefore there is an opportunity for people to put forward their views as to how that White Paper and the subsequent legislation can help to tackle smoking and, indeed, obesity.
First Minister, as regards the healthier communities agenda, each cluster is, of course, managed by a lead delivery body. In the case of the scheme in Aberconwy, it is Conwy County Borough Council. It is responsible for ensuring that the programme is well managed. What scrutiny arrangements are in place to ensure that the strategic aims are achieved? What guidance have you put in place to ensure that the programmes are delivered well and to the benefit of those living within these impoverished communities?
Let us not forget, of course, that her party is opposed to Communities First, or indeed anything that helps to reduce poverty in communities across Wales, much of which it created in the first place in the 1980s. However, what I can say is that, of course, there is ministerial scrutiny of the decisions that are taken. Officials take a close view of what Communities First clusters are doing and, ultimately, of course, Ministers are responsible to this Assembly for the actions that they have taken with regard to those Communities First clusters.
First Minister, today’s Sport Wales active adults survey suggests that there has been a 10% increase in adult participation in sport three times a week. What can the Welsh Government do to build on this really positive increase in adult sports participation?
It is important to keep on—among other things—ensuring that we have top-class sporting events in Wales, because they help to inspire young people to get involved in sport. It is 500 days from today until the start of the Rugby World Cup. England is the host, but, of course, we have games in Wales. We have found, and the Ryder Cup is an example of this, that many more young people and not-so-young people take up sport because facilities have been refurbished and because coaching is available, but also as a result of what they have seen on television because of the major sporting event. The reality is that the major sporting events that we have seen have happened since 1999, because of the fact that it is much easier to engage with the Government now than it was pre-1999. Through doing that, we can ensure that more and more young people take up sport, because they can see what their heroes are doing in the events that have been held in Wales.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, First Minister.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
It gives me great pleasure to announce that, in accordance with Standing Order 26.75, the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill was given Royal Assent on 1 May. [Applause.]
I have one change to report to this week’s business. Later today, the Minister for Natural Resources and Food will make an oral statement on the Wales coastal flooding review phase 2 report. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement, which can be found among the agenda papers that are available to Member electronically.
Minister, during the Christmas recess, the Minister for Natural Resources and Food announced the continuation of the Cynefin change programme in 2014-15 and 2015-16 and the scoping of potential expansion in future. Would it be possible to see the costing and evaluation of the programme to date, including any assessment of whether its work has been duplicated, and for the Minister to update the Assembly on the purpose and the progress on the scoping?
Yes, the Minister will make a statement in due course.
Weinidog, cyhoeddwyd adroddiad neithiwr ynglŷn â’r cyfnod sylfaen gan WISERD, sef y Sefydliad Ymchwil Gymdeithasol ac Economaidd, Data a Dulliau Cymru, a Phrifysgol Caerdydd. Nid yw’r adroddiad wedi ei ysgrifennu’n uniongyrchol gan y Llywodraeth, rwy’n deall hynny, ond mae’n dweud nifer o bethau sydd o bwys i’r Llywodraeth a’r Cynulliad yn gyffredinol ynglŷn â rhai pethau sy’n glytiog o ran y cyfnod sylfaen, rhai pethau sy’n gweithio’n dda a rhai pethau, er enghraifft, fel addysg ddwyieithog, sy’n arbennig o ffrwythlon fel rhan o’r cyfnod sylfaen. Y rheswm dros godi hwn yn awr yw fy mod yn deall bod y Llywodraeth ar fin cyhoeddi ei asesiad ei hun—y ‘stocktake’, fel y mae’n cael ei alw—o’r cyfnod sylfaen, ac felly rwy’n gofyn ichi raglenni hwn i mewn i waith y Llywodraeth fel bod modd i ni gael o leiaf datganiad yn y Siambr gan y Gweinidog er mwyn inni ofyn cwestiynau am y cyfnod sylfaen, neu, gorau oll, trafodaeth wedi ei harwain gan y Llywodraeth ar y materion hyn. Mae nifer o bethau’n newid yn y cyfnod sylfaen yn awr ac mae cyfle da i bob Aelod gyfrannu at y drafodaeth honno.
Thank you for that. I know that the Minister for Education and Skills was very pleased to see that the early indications from that report were that the foundation phase was shown as having a positive reported impact on our youngest learners in Wales. He is awaiting recommendations from the independent stocktake in the next few weeks to see how we can strengthen this education policy. I know that he will have further reports from the evaluation exercise, and a final report will be due in the autumn.
Minister, the Chamber has been very long-suffering as to my questions regarding the A40 in Crickhowell. However, the continuing problem of traffic lights is causing immense misery at the beginning and end of the school day, and the bank holiday traffic has been something to be seen. The Minister, in a written answer, said to me that she has asked the owner to get in touch so that they can work on a solution. May I ask once again for the Minister to make a statement on the delays on the A40 in Crickhowell, because it is becoming increasingly frustrating for my constituents, for businesspeople who have to travel back and forth on the A40, and for those who are trying to access health services at Nevill Hall Hospital?
Thank you. The Minister is very aware of your concerns and is happy to update you.
Minister, may I request a statement from the First Minister on neonatal care services in north Wales? There is a great deal of uncertainty in the region around the future of neonatal care, in spite of the fact that the First Minister made a clear undertaking and statement about the establishment of a new sub-regional neonatal centre in the region. We know that the First Minister is in possession of a report from an independent panel on the proposed location of that service, but we are yet to hear precisely when or where that service will be established. Given the uncertainty that this is causing and the concern in north Wales as a region, may I request a statement on this matter as soon as possible?
The First Minister will make a statement on neonatal services in north Wales in the very near future.
Minister, a written statement was issued last week as regards the schools that have been selected for Schools Challenge Wales. There has been some discussion among those schools that expected to be included in the scheme that have not been included, whereas others that have improved very much over this past year have discovered that they are included within the scheme. Would the Government agree to us having time to discuss how exactly these schools have been selected, so that the schools themselves can understand what steps they need to take in order to attain the aim?
Very significant criteria were put in place, and the schools were chosen by an independent group. I know that the Minister for Education and Skills is going to visit each school in turn, so I am sure that any questions around the way that they were selected could be put to the Minister directly.
I have made several visits recently to businesses in Port Talbot in connection with the closure of junction 41. In particular at Aberavan shopping centre, I heard about the huge concerns that retailers have about their viability given the closure of junction 41. I know that a recent study of the shopping centre, which it conducted, showed evidence that a third of all its business comes via junction 41, mainly from the west. Given the cross-party nature of these concerns being echoed, will the Minister ensure that we have a statement in this Chamber on the immediate effect of the closure on businesses as a matter of urgency?
The Minister is obviously watching what goes on there very closely, and I know that she has received representations from several Assembly Members, which she has dealt with directly.
Minister, could we have a statement on the future of village greens in Wales, given the confusion caused by the answer given to me last week by the Minister for Natural Resources and Food, in which he said that there are no proposals to amend the Commons Act 2006 in this regard? In fact, on page 97 of the Government’s consultation on the planning Bill, it quite specifically proposes to go ahead and to amend the Commons Act so as to limit the facility for local people to make representations on village greens. I think that this confusion, caused by the conflicting answers of the Minister in the Chamber and the Government’s consultation paper, needs some clarification through a statement.
My understanding is that there is no confusion, but I will ask the Minister for Housing and Regeneration to write to you.
I am confused.
I call for a single Welsh Government statement on waiting times to see gynaecologists in Wales. I was contacted by a constituent who was told that she is facing an 11-month wait after being referred by the GP in February. She said that through chasing her appointments, ‘I understand that’s 11 months of routine appointments such as mine, and that’s before the surgery I then expect I will need. This is clearly ridiculous for any person to wait. Please advise me on how these delays are being resolved’.
Clearly, it is not for me to advise on how those are being resolved as I am an opposition Member. I hope that you are not going to say that it is simply a matter for the health board. If these concerns are valid, it is clearly a matter for the Welsh Government, and I request a statement accordingly.
Well, it is actually a matter for the health board. The Government and the Minister for Health and Social Services have set down very clear guidelines as to what those waiting times should be, but it is absolutely a matter for the health board.
I know that the Minister for business is probably fed up with questions about broadband in this Chamber, but it is one of the No. 1 issues in my postbag at the moment, as I know is the case for many other Members as well. I wonder whether we could have an update on where we are at the moment with the roll-out of broadband. Specifically, I know that there is a 95% or 96% target that was set out by the Government. Concerns have been raised with me regarding the extent to which this was relying on fibre-to-the-cabinet, FTTC, technology, which still relies on copper wire to homes. I wonder whether we could have a statement from the Government on where we are with the roll-out of broadband technology, how it is going to deal with the notspots that people are concerned about and how reliable the technology that is rolled out will actually be in the long term.
I know that the Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology is very pleased that the project is going ahead at a great pace, certainly compared with England. I know that, in my own constituency, we are soaring ahead. However, I will ask the Deputy Minister to give Assembly Members a written statement on progress.
Leader of the house, could we have a statement from the Minister for the Economy, Science and Transport in respect of the maintenance of Welsh Government trunk roads? I specifically refer to the A48 going through the Vale of Glamorgan. The deterioration of the surface of that road is pretty appalling, to be honest with you, and I would be grateful if the Minister could give a statement to indicate what obligations—. I believe that the local authority is the manager of that piece of road. What obligations are placed on the authority to maintain the surface of the road?
Secondly, we are now getting into the growing season, as it were, and many people will have seen ragwort at the side of roads. While it is in flower, it looks very attractive—it is a bright yellow plant—but it is a particularly toxic weed that is devastating to livestock and any ruminating animals if it is consumed by them. It is a notifiable weed under legislation that is supposed to be controlled. Regrettably, along the major trunk roads, that control seems to have gone out of the window over the last couple of years. I would be grateful to know whether the Welsh Government is putting in place any measures that could start to contain this weed and, above all, get back to the more controlled levels of the early 1990s.
Yes, thank you. I know that there is a major maintenance scheme and repair work being undertaken on the A48 at the current time, but the Minister for the Economy, Science and Transport will provide a written statement on both of those points.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
I published the first Wales infrastructure investment plan in May 2012, setting out the Welsh Government’s infrastructure investment priorities. Since 2012, I have provided more than £2 billion of additional funding to deliver those priorities. This includes an extra £1.1 billion in capital allocations and generating around £900 million of additional investment by the use of innovative finance interventions. This additional investment has enabled the delivery of important infrastructure developments across Wales, boosting jobs and growth and providing a range of community benefits, including training opportunities. The investment has improved our public estate in health and education as well as in housing, flood protection and transport. However, we want to do more and this Government remains determined to draw on all of the resources it has available in the form of capital budgets, financial instruments, EU funding, and, in due course, direct borrowing powers. So, I am announcing today the next steps to boost further the vital investment in our infrastructure.
Between 2017-18 and 2021-22, we will be undertaking a number of initiatives that will deliver around £1 billion in new innovative investment in Wales’s infrastructure. The Welsh Government will be allocating around £70 million per year of revenue funding to finance this investment over a period of 30 years. It will help to drive growth in our economy, create jobs and community benefits for our construction sector, increase the resilience and sustainability of our assets, and support improved service delivery through reconfiguration of the public estate.
New investment on this scale will also allow us to maximise the benefits of our sustainable procurement practices, creating apprenticeships and training places for Welsh workers. This new £1 billion programme of investment in priority infrastructure projects has the potential to raise Welsh gross value added by half a percentage point, fostering the creation of 6,500 extra jobs. It means that over the 10-year period between 2012 and 2022 this Government will have boosted funding for infrastructure through innovative investment by around 9% each year. This represents a vital injection of investment at a time when the economy and public services most need it.
In these challenging economic and constrained times for public finances, we will be making the best use of all of our resources to invest in this new infrastructure. The context must be set out once again to demonstrate the scale of this challenge. The Welsh Government’s total budget in 2015-16 will be 10% lower in real terms than in 2010-11, and the fiscal constraints by the UK Government are set to continue in the short to medium term. By all accounts, by 2018-19, the total Welsh budget could be a further 10% lower in real terms than it was in 2015-16. We need to strike the right balance in deciding our priorities between affordability and our ambition to invest in new assets.
There are clearly many competing demands for resources. However, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is clear that targeted investment in infrastructure is one of the main ways that government intervention can contribute to growth and jobs. In the short term, the construction activity associated with infrastructure investment generates jobs, community benefits and economic activity. In the longer term, infrastructure investment can increase economic output, productivity and income, and promote higher levels of employment. It can also improve the efficiency of public services. Today, I can also confirm that we will be making full use of the £500 million of direct borrowing that we will, in the future, be able to undertake as a result of the Wales Bill, published in March.
I, and many others in the Assembly, continue to believe that our direct borrowing limit should be higher. Be that as it may, however, I can confirm that around £30 million of annual revenue funding will be made available to support direct borrowing by the Government. We know that investment in transport can have a significant sustained positive effect on Welsh economic performance. There are few other areas of intervention where the evidence for a major long-term impact is as strong. The results of a consultation on the major enhancement of the M4 around Newport are currently being considered and a decision is expected this summer. Once a decision has been made, it will feature as an early priority for deployment of our direct borrowing powers. That is also why this Government is committed to completing dualling of the A465 by 2020. To achieve this important development, I can confirm that sections 5 and 6 will be delivered using the non-profit distributing investment model. This will provide the vehicle for Welsh Government to secure around £300 million from institutional investors, who will work in partnership with the Government to design, build, operate and maintain this final stretch of the Heads of the Valleys road. We will also continue to develop other transport schemes, in north Wales in particular.
In addition to these projects, this Government will also undertake new initiatives to fund infrastructure projects that aim to transform the delivery of public services, rationalising costs and reorienting service delivery towards anticipated growth in demand. These interventions complement the actions we are taking to tackle poverty, delivering the actions that will make a tangible difference to Welsh families and communities. That is why this Government is committed to new investment in a specialist cancer care facility, which will enhance the exemplary work that is being done by the Velindre NHS Trust. Work on this proposition is continuing, but I expect a new facility, which would be operational from 2021-22, to require investment of around £200 million. This project will be funded using a non-dividend investment model.
Our direct borrowing programme, completing dualling of the A465 and new investment in specialist cancer care, will mean new investment of around £1 billion in the Welsh economy. In addition, this Government is developing propositions for further innovative investment on an all-Wales basis. More detail about these investments will follow in due course. The £1 billion programme of infrastructure investment that I have announced today reflects this Government’s desire to use the full range of its resources to boost investment. We are providing a reasoned, affordable and desirable alternative to counterbalance the UK Government’s austerity measures, which have resulted in a 31% real-terms cut to our capital programme since 2010. We are determined to act decisively to stimulate and not choke off investment.
In today’s challenging economic environment, compounded by profound social change, finding new sources of funding is harder than ever. This Government has acted decisively, creating a clear project pipeline through the Wales infrastructure investment plan in order to provide a catalyst for growth through infrastructure investment. This additional £1 billion is an investment in our economy and in our people. In short, it is an investment in the future of Wales.
May I first of all thank the Minister for her statement this afternoon? Once again, may I say that I am pleased to support the Wales infrastructure investment plan in general? I am grateful for the Minister’s update, and also to hear more details about these two major capital projects.
Now, as I have said before, investing in our infrastructure is crucial to improving Wales’s economy, and I am pleased that the Minister is making regular statements on this matter. First, the Minister makes it clear in her statement today that the Welsh Government will allocate around £70 million per year of revenue funding to boost investment in Welsh infrastructure between 2017 and 2022. While I am supportive of this investment, can the Minister tell us how the Welsh Government has arrived at this particular figure?
I also hope that, as a result of this announcement, there will be an opportunity for small businesses, in particular, to bid for contracts in relation to these projects in the future, and I would be grateful if the Minister would confirm whether that will be the case. Today’s statement also refers to a number of initiatives to deliver infrastructure investment in Wales, and perhaps the Minister could explain in a little more detail exactly what these new initiatives will be. Can she give us an indication of what sort of initiatives the Government is actually looking at?
Now, the focus of today’s statement is to announce further detail on the final stretch of the A465, and to announce a specialist cancer care facility, and how these projects will be financed in the future. I appreciate that it is still early days, but there is very little detail about how these projects’ finances will be governed, or how they will deliver value for money. I therefore go back to one of my original concerns when the plan was launched, and I again ask the Minister: how is the Welsh Government actually going to monitor value for money from these particular investments?
Now, the Welsh Government is once again quick to tell us this afternoon that it is working with reduced budgets, and so, surely, in times when money is tight, the Welsh Government must ensure that every £1 spent delivers real outcomes and value for money for the Welsh taxpayer. Therefore, can the Minister tell us what transparent mechanisms will the Welsh Government use to monitor these investment projects?
Now, a key outcome of the Wales infrastructure investment plan is the number of jobs that have been created. Indeed, the plan’s full title refers to growth and jobs. Last year, the Minister made it clear that she was expecting approximately 8,000 construction jobs to have been created through last year’s investments. A year on, I would be grateful if the Minister could indeed confirm whether that target has been met.
I appreciate that today’s statement anticipates that 6,500 jobs will be created as a result of this new programme of investment. Now, given that job creation is central to this plan, could the Minister confirm the total number of jobs created since the launch of this plan, will the Minister explain how the Welsh Government has calculated that figure, and will she also commit to publishing job creation statistics with each update, so that Members can see exactly what new jobs have been created as a result of this plan, every six months?
Last year, the Minister also made it clear that the Welsh Government was integrating the Welsh Government community benefits policy into the plan in order to ensure maximum job and training opportunities from public procurement in Wales. I support the Minister’s efforts in this area—indeed, I have called for the infrastructure investment plan and the National Procurement Service to work together to promote a flexible agenda that works for businesses of all shapes and sizes in Wales. Now, while I am fully supportive of this integration, can the Minister evidence exactly how integrating the community benefits policy has resulted in maximising job and training opportunities?
The Minister will not be surprised to hear that I am pleased that the plan recognises the importance of securing private finance. The Minister made it clear that one of the goals of the infrastructure investment plan last year was to supplement traditional funding with innovative approaches, which she has confirmed today. Given the Welsh Government’s commitment to deliver innovative finance schemes, can the Minister confirm how much private sector money the Welsh Government has already levered in in total to fund some of the projects announced since the plan’s launch in 2012? What targets is the Government setting for these two projects to lever in private finance?
In closing, Presiding Officer, I would like to once again thank the Minister for her statement and I look forward to hearing more about the development of these projects in the coming weeks and months.
I thank the opposition spokesperson for finance for his support for the Welsh infrastructure investment plan and his very constructive questions in terms of the opportunities that my statement today provides. This £1 billion programme, of course, as you have said, and asked the question about, will require £70 million of revenue funding per annum for a period of 30 years. That is about accruing the revenue requirement gradually, beginning in 2017-18 and reaching its peak in 2022-23, based on the profiles that we are already developing, particularly in terms of the use of this new non-dividend investment model. Of course, as I said at the outset, and in response to one of your penultimate questions, we have already generated around £900 million in additional investment by the use of innovative finance interventions. That demonstrates, as I said in my statement, the decisiveness of this Government in terms of ensuring that we do make that additional investment in infrastructure in very constrained times. I would assure Paul Davies that, of course, this will have huge opportunities in the supply chain for small and medium-sized enterprises as a result of the public procurement policy that is now embedded in our contracting arrangements. Indeed, I visited phases 2 and 3 of the current Heads of the Valleys scheme today, meeting the apprentices and identifying the community benefits that already have been delivered in terms of that particular major road infrastructure development. I think that proves where we are in terms of that delivery.
It is very important that we do see the benefits of this investment in terms of the Wales infrastructure investment plan. Just to point briefly to the investment priorities, there are seven investment priorities, including transport, housing, education, public services, energy and telecommunications. Clearly, in terms of the delivery of that, this is just one stage in terms of announcing new opportunities in innovative investment. However, there will be other opportunities to update, particularly in relation to my 2014 Wales infrastructure plan annual report. Not only will that comment on and highlight key infrastructure investment over the past 12 months, it will also measure progress, which, of course, is your point about value for money in terms of business assurance and ensuring that we are delivering on the Welsh Government’s better business case, which ensures best practice for developing spending proposals. Improving the robustness of spending proposals increases the availability of deliverable high-priority schemes, and it is important that that is reflected in the delivery of our Wales infrastructure investment plan.
It is also very clear from the questions that you ask that we look to the opportunities that are provided by job creation: 6,500 jobs, of course, are a result of the benefits and the potential that we have for this, as I announced today, £1 billion investment programme. Just to clarify, this number today, based on successful delivery of new transport infrastructure, including completing the dualling of the A465, is very consistent with an extensive evidence base, including a recent analysis by the OECD on the circumstances in which transport improvements are likely to yield major economic benefits. However, I will, of course, be updating in full in terms of job creation in my next statement.
Minister, obviously I want to warmly welcome the update in your announcement today regarding the dualling of the final stretch of the A465 Heads of the Valleys road, which is, of course, the Dowlais to Hirwaun stretch. Obviously, over the next few years, I will be following the progress on this very carefully. This is something that I have long campaigned for, alongside my colleague Merthyr AM Huw Lewis and also people from the communities that I represent. Dualling this stretch of the Heads of the Valleys road is obviously important economically for my constituency. You did mention in your statement apprenticeships for the existing phases of the road, but could I ask you what work will be done to ensure that young people from my constituency of Cynon Valley and the local surrounding areas will benefit from any employment or training opportunities associated with this particular development?
My second question to you, Minister, is to do with safety. You will know that I have also been concerned over the years by the disproportionate number of deaths and serious accidents along this road, and so I welcome the benefits to safety that will result from the dualling. I know that the Welsh Government has introduced a range of measures to improve safety in the meantime. Could you tell me whether there has been any research carried out into the cumulative effect of this in improving safety?
I would like to thank the Member for the Cynon Valley for her question today and acknowledge her strong campaigning and support for the completion of the dualling of the Heads of the Valleys road, alongside her colleagues from across the Heads of the Valleys and further afield, because this is a major infrastructure development for the whole of Wales, but, of course, particularly in terms of the Heads of the Valleys. I also recognise in terms of the delivery so far— As I said, I was visiting section 3, the Brynmawr to Tredegar stretch today and not only meeting young people who have benefited as apprentices, but also seeing the links that have been made and that are, of course, clearly expected in terms of our public procurement policy in terms of community benefits, with the schools and the college locally to ensure that young people benefit from the development. I think that it is widely recognised, not just by those direct contacts, but also by our communities and families, that the construction will have an impact on employment opportunities and will lead to those 6,500 jobs that we are expecting to deliver, in terms of the boost to the economy.
It is very important that we look at the investment objectives of sections 5 and 6, and I know that part of your call for the dualling has been about road safety and reducing casualties. I have to assure the Member that it is a key investment objective to enhance road safety and to reduce casualties, as well as to deliver a scheme that is sustainable, and to facilitate economic regeneration and to use the A465 to manage traffic effectively and improve resilience on the strategic road network in south-east Wales.
Plaid Cymru is very pleased to be able to welcome this announcement today, although we regret the fact that it has taken three years for us to reach this stage and for it to be announced. It is worth bearing in mind that in the party’s manifesto in 2011 we stated clearly that a minimum of £2 billion needed to be spent on capital schemes in addition to Barnett to sustain employment and promote business in Wales, and that, of course, because of the recession and the unemployment that we anticipated at the time. In those days, borrowing powers were a long way off and that is why the party introduced the idea from its Build for Wales scheme, an idea that, to be fair, was supported by the Minister making the announcement here today. Unfortunately, the Labour Party decided to criticise the idea as a completely impractical idea, but here we are today and here is the Government announcing a scheme along the same lines as Build for Wales, with the same aims and objectives, so very good.
In your statement you make reference to the fact that you have already secured over £1 billion of additional capital expenditure. Could you go into detail as to where exactly you get that figure of £1 billion, and then confirm that the money that you are announcing today is an additional £1 billion and that the borrowing of £500 million that the Government intends to do in the future, therefore, makes an additional capital expenditure total of £2.5 billion, which is very close to the figures that Plaid Cymru had back in 2011?
We welcome the investment in the Heads of the Valleys road—a scheme that was promoted by the former Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones—and the investment at Velindre.
You made reference to transport schemes in north Wales—could you go into more detail as to what exactly these schemes are? There is a great deal of vagueness surrounding these compared with some of the other schemes that you refer to. Do they include, for example, the new bridge over the Menai, or the electrification of the north Wales line, or the electrification of the mid Wales line? It is important that every part of Wales receives some benefit from this strategic funding—of course, it needs to be spent strategically, not just scattered across the country, but it is important that there is a broad geographical distribution to this funding to ensure the benefits that you referred to in your statement.
Reference has also been made to the fact that we need to make the most of this funding in terms of securing more contracts for companies from Wales, and that is for obvious reasons that we do not have to pursue today, exactly as Gerry Holtham used to say back in the spring of 2011. What are the most recent statistics as regards the percentage of capital contracts that come to companies from Wales? If you do not have those figures with you today, would you be willing to update the Assembly on that? We have to increase that percentage from the current 50% closer to 75% in order for us to ensure the best benefit for the people of Wales and the businesses of Wales.
Diolch yn fawr, Alun Ffred Jones. I am very pleased that you welcome this announcement today. Of course, it comes on top of the work that has already been achieved, as I have set out in previous statements, in terms of the Wales infrastructure investment plan and the innovative finance that we have secured. Of course, that is a range of innovative finance that we have secured over the past three years, and it is important that we remember that that includes the local government borrowing initiative for highways improvements, which is enabling around £170 million of investment in our highways before the end of 2014-15, and the fact that we extended that into the twenty-first century schools programme, injecting around £200 million in investment into the programme, which is of course delivering on the programme two years sooner than planned.
Also, we launched, with my colleague Carl Sargeant, the housing finance grant—a £400 million annual funding stream that will, again, help to see registered social landlords raise £125 million in new funding to finance the delivery of more than 1,000 affordable homes over the next four years. Of course, my colleague the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport is setting up the Ely Bridge Development Company in partnership with the Principality Building Society. Again, that is £106 million of capital funding and 700 homes. Also, we have recapitalised the Welsh housing partnerships. So, a great deal of investment is already taking place in terms of innovative investment to boost the Welsh economy, and I am delighted today to be progressing on that investment and to clarify, in terms of the announcements today, that it is £300 million for sections 5 and 6—Dowlais Top to the A470 junction and then on to Hirwaun. Of course, that means the whole of the A465 being dualled by 2020. And there is that new specialist cancer care centre at £210 million that is going to result in the construction of a brand-new hospital to provide cancer patients with access to high-quality services comparable with the best in the world. In addition, of course, it is important that we acknowledge the fact that we will have access to that £500 million of direct borrowing as a result of the Wales Bill. It is important that we recognise what has already been invested on an all-Wales basis, and, as you say, it is important that this is strategic in terms of business case and opportunities. However, if we look at the investment that has already taken place on an all-Wales basis, we will see that this includes investment in the energy industry and telecommunications, the all-Wales programme in terms of next generation broadband, twenty-first century schools, flood and coastal erosion risk management, and important investments providing financial support for small and medium-sized enterprises, housing and domestic energy efficiency. That is on an all-Wales basis.
We are looking at business cases in terms of transport, and not just for north Wales. I mention north Wales in my statement, but of course it has to be based on the business case and the opportunity. They will be considered carefully in terms of strategic priority.
I welcome the positive response to this update. I am delighted that it is a Welsh Labour Government delivering this major £1 billion boost to the infrastructure of Wales.
I will start by welcoming the statement. Any investment of £1 billion into the Welsh economy is to be welcomed, and will certainly make a huge difference to many communities around Wales. I also welcome the good use that the Minister for Finance is making of the UK Government’s provision in the Wales Bill that will enable you to borrow the £500 million in the first place. Of course, that will certainly make a huge difference in terms of the amount of money that the Welsh Government will be able to invest on capital projects as things move forward.
Minister, I have a couple of questions in terms of the actual statement itself. I notice that, in the statement, you are still referring to the possibility of spending quite a significant sum of this money on the M4 relief road around Newport. As you know, that does not find favour with every Member in the Chamber; in fact, two parties are actively opposed to it. I am just wondering what the situation will be as a result of the consultation if the Welsh Government decides that an alternative scheme will be adopted, or have you effectively ruled out any alternative schemes by making the announcement in this way in this statement? Secondly, you refer in the statement to the very welcome news that you will be looking to use the borrowing and investment requirement in this statement to renew the Velindre NHS cancer hospital. Again, I am very happy about that. You will also know, of course, that the south Wales programme was very much founded on the basis of a new specialist critical care centre just outside Cwmbran, and there is no mention of that at all in your statement, as to how that will be financed. I was wondering whether the financing for that will be part of a further statement in terms of that, or whether there is no money available for that now that you effectively have set out your plans up to 2022. I am sure that that is not the case, but some clarification on that would be very welcome indeed.
Finally, Minister, I very much welcome the fact that you are using innovative finance arrangements to fund some of this expenditure. However, I remain disappointed at the unimaginative use of those funds. Certainly, there are other ways that you can raise money, such as, for instance, tax increment financing—which I was determined to get in, of course. That is not just related to the money that the Welsh Government is able to raise, but it also empowers local government to raise important capital expenditure in areas that need investment, particularly areas of regeneration. I was wondering whether, as part of this overhaul of financing and looking at the infrastructure needs of the country, you are making any progress in enabling councils themselves to take advantage of innovative financing to invest in their own communities in the same way.
I thank Peter Black very much for his questions on my statement. I am very glad that he acknowledges how we work as a Welsh Government constructively in partnership with the public and private sectors, and in partnership with the UK Government and local government, to deliver on this much-needed boost for growth and jobs, and much-needed boost to our Welsh economy.
I hope that you will have noted my words very carefully in terms of opportunities for the use of the £500 million borrowing powers that we will have made available to us as a result of our combined efforts to secure those borrowing powers. We know that the Wales Bill is being considered today at Committee Stage. I repeat the words that I made in my statement—we are looking at the results of the consultation on the major enhancement of the M4 around Newport. They are currently being considered and a decision is expected this summer. It is appropriate that that is put on the record as the position.
It is also important, in terms of your question and point about Velindre NHS cancer trust, that I am talking today about new opportunities for innovative investment. This is about us progressing, as I have already outlined. You are very engaged and have been very supportive of our local government borrowing initiative, our Welsh housing partnership and the ways in which we have used innovative investment, particularly in social housing. This is over and above our capital programme. Of course, our capital programme is there in order to finance those commitments that have been made by the Minister for health, particularly in terms of the critical care centre. This is about the additional needs that we have and where we see innovative investment as the appropriate way forward. That will also be applied to the non-dividend investment model for the Velindre NHS cancer trust.
Tax increment financing is not being discounted. It is one option in a range of innovative finance solutions. It is available to be used by local authorities in Wales. I ask the Member to reflect on my point that I am coming back again, particularly in relation to our annual report for the Wales infrastructure investment plan. I will report not only on the output and value for money of investment so far, but on further developments in terms of innovative investment.
First, I welcome the additional capital expenditure on key infrastructure projects, especially the creation of 6,500 extra jobs and the increase in Wales’s GVA. It would have been better if the Welsh capital expenditure had not been so severely cut by the Westminster Government. Our borrowing limit, set at £500 million, is obviously too low. The question I have for the Minister is: how does the cost of borrowing using innovative financial instruments compare with borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board, which we could do if it was part of our borrowing limit?
I thank Mike Hedges for his question. As you know, I called for higher borrowing limits, but it is important that the £500 million gives us the opportunity of a range of options in terms of borrowing for our infrastructure. It is borrowing for a purpose. On the costs of direct borrowing compared with the non-dividend route to borrowing, it is important, as I said on the non-profit distributing model, that we ensure that this is a new way. It is about capping private sector returns, as the Member knows, on investment. It ensures that there is transparency, as a public interest director is appointed to the board of the project company delivering the infrastructure. It is reducing costs by standardising contracts. It is important that we highlight the route in the model in terms of its impact. We must secure the best deal in terms of borrowing and the use of that revenue funding, because, of course, that is going to be revenue funding. It is a choice we have to make in terms of paying our debt on borrowing.
Minister, there are two aspects to your statement. First, I welcome your confirmation that no decision has been taken on the particular model in terms of the outcome of the consultations on dealing with the M4 traffic congestion issues in that area. It is important because not only is there consultation, but there is the inquiry that is under way with the environment committee at this particular time.
Secondly, in respect of infrastructure—and my constituency has benefitted from infrastructure such as the Church Village bypass and so on—there is the role of reopened rail lines, new rail lines and so on within transport infrastructure as a whole. For example, the Beddau to Pontyclun line and the SEWTA proposal in respect of the line to Llantrisant. Where do those potential elements that can take cars off the road and put people on the trains and so on feature within the infrastructure report?
I thank Mick Antoniw for his questions. Again, I confirm that no decisions have yet been made in terms of the M4 as a result of consultation. It is important that I highlighted transport as an investment priority. Of course, that includes transport investment in terms of our whole public transport network in terms of our devolved responsibilities, recognising that I have already allocated £60 million for the implementation of phase 1 of the metro proposition.
I am delighted to see the Welsh Government’s new conversion to the importance of GVA as an economic indicator. We have been stressing the importance of GVA and GDP for some time now, and I am pleased that you recognise the importance. On the details of that figure and that this £1 billion-programme will raise that GVA by half a percentage point and foster the creation of 6,500 extra jobs, there is little detail as to where that figure has come from. Has it just been plucked out of the air, or do you have some solid, reliable evidence that there will be that improvement in the economic growth that this country desperately needs?
I do not think that Nick Ramsay listened to my statement very carefully and my clear explanation of why we are moving forward on the basis of £1 billion investment. I am proud that it is the Welsh Labour Government that is delivering in terms of this extra £1 billion investment, on top of the £2 billion extra funding that I have delivered since 2012, despite the 31% cut by your Government at Westminster. That also includes an additional investment of £900 million as a result of innovative finance. I am proud to say, and quite clearly can say that this £1 billion-programme does have the potential to raise Welsh GVA by 0.5% and to foster the creation of 6,500 jobs for the economy of Wales.
I congratulate the Minister on her announcement today, and I particularly welcome the news about Velindre hospital, which, of course, is in my constituency of Cardiff North. I am sure that the Minister is well aware of how well-regarded Velindre is, as shown in the recent Macmillan cancer patient survey, and we all know that it is on the cutting edge of cancer treatment. So, I welcome the opportunities that this will bring to many cancer patients throughout a wide catchment area in Wales.
The Minister says that the new building should be up and going by 2021-22. I wondered whether she could give any indication of when the building work will actually start and how much more negotiation there is to do. Obviously, when you are running a hospital that is already full of patients, the planning of this is very important.
I thank Julie Morgan for her question. Of course, she is a great supporter of Velindre hospital NHS trust and is very engaged now in helping us to move forward in terms of the plans. Using a non-dividend investment model for this new specialist cancer centre was a decision that we made, and it is appropriate. Already, we are engaging not only with the trust, but with those who could also be involved in a public-private finance initiative partnership to deliver on this. Clearly, we will move, as we have identified, as quickly as possible to ensure that the construction itself is started.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I call on the Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology, Ken Skates.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I welcome the opportunity this afternoon to provide an update on the success of the Jobs Growth Wales programme. In April, Jobs Growth Wales reached its second anniversary, and I am extremely pleased to report that the programme has exceeded its target by creating well over 12,000 additional jobs for young people across Wales, and by getting more than 9,700 unemployed young people into those jobs.
The programme is aimed at young people aged 16 to 24 who are job ready and are likely to be entering employment for the first time. Without the support of this programme, these young people may otherwise have spent long spells of time unemployed. Jobs Growth Wales enables individuals to gain good-quality work experience that supports their progression into sustained employment. The Welsh Government could not stand back and accept that young people often experience long spells of unemployment simply because they have no work experience, which is a key factor when employers are looking to recruit; that is why we introduced the programme.
Jobs Growth Wales is entering its third year in a very strong position. We will very soon have passed the 10,000 mark of young people entering Jobs Growth Wales opportunities, and that is definitely worth celebrating. The latest statistics show that, in the programme’s largest strand of opportunities within the private sector, 81% of young people have progressed into sustained employment—in many instances as apprentices—or into further learning on completion of their six-month opportunity. This compares to our target of 70% positive progression. I am sure that you will agree that this is a significant achievement.
In the third sector, where we support young people with additional personal barriers in a supported environment, 63% of individuals on completion of the programme made a positive progression. The graduate strand has maintained high rates of progression, with 93% of young people taking part continuing in employment on completion of their six-month job opportunity.
Through the self-employment strand, 249 new businesses have been created. As a Government wanting to instil a culture of entrepreneurship in Wales, I am delighted to see that Jobs Growth Wales has supported business creation with young people, which will make a contribution to growth in the Welsh economy.
The proportion of young people who have progressed into an apprenticeship after completing their Jobs Growth Wales opportunity in the private sector strand is 26%. Joining up our training and employability programmes is helping to create a progression path that provides young people with long-term prospects, accredited training and qualifications recognised by industry and highly valued by employers.
The success of the programme to date has meant that we have already announced a further £12.5 million in the Welsh Government’s budget to extend the programme for a fourth year, creating more than 4,000 extra job opportunities for unemployed young people. This extra funding will make a real difference to the lives of young people across Wales, providing them with the experience needed to help them in their future careers.
To celebrate the success of the programme, I recently visited a number of employers to experience at first hand the impact that Jobs Growth Wales has had on young people’s lives. I visited a Swansea fluids manufacturer, Hydratech, which demonstrated to me yet again how Jobs Growth Wales provides fantastic opportunities for young people who would otherwise be out of work, and also allows employers to grow their business by accelerating their recruitment process. One participant told me that he was really struggling to find a job before the Jobs Growth Wales opportunity that met his skills set and area of interest. It helped him to gain the skills and knowledge needed in order to secure one of the permanent jobs available. He said:
‘The job opportunity was fantastic. If it had not been for Jobs Growth Wales, I would probably still be looking for work. Instead, I feel I am on a focused career pathway with a promising future ahead of me’.
I am pleased to say that he has now been offered a permanent position with the company.
I visited Sportradar in Usk, which supplies statistical data in the sports sector. It employed five young people through Jobs Growth Wales. All five progressed onto the Welsh Government’s Young Recruits programme and all are currently studying for business administration qualifications, which is the perfect result of a Jobs Growth Wales job opportunity. The employer told me that Jobs Growth Wales gave them the opportunity to take on more staff and ultimately grow the business more quickly. The six-month job opportunities gave all of the participants the chance to prove themselves, and I am delighted that they are all now employed within the company.
I also had the opportunity to visit Pedal Power, which is a charity that provides accessible cycling for disabled adults and children. Three young people were employed through the programme, and all have progressed into an apprenticeship with the company. The participants told me that the job opportunity has ended a long period of unemployment and has provided them with a range of new skills, and set them on a path to qualifications and a future career.
Jobs Growth Wales not only provides a valuable career opportunity, it enables young people to gain the essential skills that employers are looking for, and provides long-term prospects for sustained progression. Time and again, employers tell me just how much of a difference hard-working, talented Jobs Growth Wales recruits have made, both in terms of productivity and prospects for growth.
While I am aware that the youth unemployment figures have seen a steady rise across all of the UK since the economic recession began, I can say with confidence that youth unemployment has begun to show a steady decline in the last 18 months and continues to fall faster in Wales compared to a rise of 99% across the UK. The programme has helped to prevent this steep rise in youth unemployment. Here in Wales, we have broken free of mirroring those parts of England that we have traditionally reflected. The rise here has been 41% lower than the UK average. For 19 to 24-year-olds, the figure for those not in education, employment or training demonstrates even more good news. For the year ending 2013, figures show that 20.3% were NEET, compared with 22.9% in the previous year. That is a drop of 2.6% in just one year. Make no mistake, Jobs Growth Wales has played its part in getting unemployed young people into work.
I am immensely proud of what we have achieved. I am confident that we are well on course to achieve the programme’s target of creating 16,000 job opportunities over four years. Our absolute priority in these tough times is to stand up for the people of Wales, creating jobs and enabling growth. The success of this programme so far proves that we are doing just that.
Thank you very much for your statement, which was scripted in your characteristic journalistic style. We do welcome this programme. It is a weapon in an armoury of weapons being delivered by the UK and Welsh Governments, targeted at employment support and delivery. Clearly, it is a shiny arrow in a quiver, but that quiver should be the UK Work Programme. Will you recognise that the UK Work Programme is a two-year programme of personalised support, recognising that people do have difficulties on the journey and it is for the people who are furthest from the workplace, rather than people on Jobs Growth Wales who you say are job-ready, including graduates? Will you welcome the fact that, in its third year, the Work Programme in Wales is expected to have significantly overachieved in this age group, given that it is a two-year programme of personalised support, so you would not see the long-term benefits until the third year?
Long-term unemployment across the UK is down by 93,000 on the year, which is the largest annual fall since 1998. In your statement on employment support last week, you said that employment policy remains within the ambit of central Government. I am sure, therefore, that you will welcome the 30,000 fall in unemployment in Wales since the general election and the 81,000 fall in the number of working-age people in Wales not in employment.
You cited some very interesting and encouraging youth unemployment statistics. I am sure that it is excellent news that youth unemployment in Wales has decreased by 1.5% over the past recorded year, which is more than any other UK nation. However, it has, of course, been rising since 2005 and the Office for National Statistics shows that Wales had the highest unemployment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds of all UK nations, and that has been continuously the case for five years. Therefore, clearly, the percentages are accounted for by the fact that we are starting from a lower base.
You said that the number of job opportunities created and approved was 12,436, but that the number of job opportunities filled was 9,704; could you explain the 22% gap? That is, the 22% of jobs therefore not filled. Of those 9,704, only 48%—4,687—had completed their six-month placement opportunities. Could you provide us with figures to break that down between those who completed their six months and those who did not? Further, 21%, more than one in five—2,033 people—left the scheme early. Could you explain what analysis you have undertaken or are undertaking on that? Further, what longer term support will be offered to those people, which could be done if they are still in the Work Programme, having been referred to you, if in the future they are able to, but, of course, they cannot at the moment?
Also, could you explain why the destination data include recycled jobs, where, for example, one job opportunity may result from an early lever and a completed six-month opportunity, for destinations data based on immediate destination following completion of opportunity, or a point of leaving early? Could we have figures that reflect that, rather than apparently and potentially double counting?
In the private sector strand, 49% go on to stay with the employer in a full-time position or to follow part-time employment with another employer, meaning that 51% do not. In fact, 13% become unemployed. Could you explain that gap, and also explain why 65% of those in the private sector strand state personal or other reasons for dropping out? What action is the Welsh Government taking to monitor the reasons for non-completion and to address that? It is encouraging that you are asking them the question, but where does that lead us to?
My final points related to this are on a similar scheme, namely the European social fund-funded intermediate labour market scheme. Do the Welsh Government schemes linked to Jobs Growth Wales still exclude support for offenders on probation to access the Work Programme? Finally, will you acknowledge that Jobs Growth Wales, because you have compared it on a number of occasions as being equivalent to the Work Programme, is a voluntary scheme for people prepared to come on it and who volunteer to engage, while the Work Programme is mandatory and therefore you would expect a far higher success rate from Jobs Growth Wales than is apparently being achieved? Could you please comment upon that?
I thank the Member for North Wales for his questions and observations, and for recognising my journalistic style. Talking about the media, I thank the Member for the press release that he published on his website on 14 March, when he described Jobs Growth Wales as an excellent scheme. I would on this occasion agree with him.
In terms of the problems with the Work Programme, we are keen in Welsh Government to help all people who are unemployed, and that is why I am keen to work with the UK Government and the Minister of State for Employment. We are doing that and work is progressing well.
I also welcome very much the fall in unemployment in Wales, and I would like to thank the people of Wales for voting Labour to enable this to happen.
In terms of the difference between jobs filled and jobs created, that is clearly because you first of all have to identify a job and then recruit. So, it is the time that it takes between creating a position and recruiting that person to fill the job; it is a very simple process of recruitment.
I would advise all Members to look at the official figures for the specific breakdown of destinations, not just for those who have completed, but also for those who have not completed the six months. I can inform Members that we have undertaken research into the reasons for people leaving the scheme early, so that we can direct them appropriately to other programmes.
In terms of the comparisons with the Work Programme, I have heard some declare that it is an unfair comparison between the Work Programme and Jobs Growth Wales. I am afraid that is because our programme is successful and the UK Government’s is not. That is the only reason they are declaring that it is unfair.
I thank the Deputy Minister for his statement and I will start with the one part of the statement that I do agree with, namely his conclusion that Jobs Growth Wales plays a part in getting young unemployed people back into work; there is no doubt about that. However, the question in scrutinising this Government, and not the Westminster Government, is to what extent it is working and what is the success rate in terms of the public funding provided. The creation of 1,200 work experience opportunities is not the same as job creation. The Minister claims that up to 81% of young people find a job under Jobs Growth Wales. However, that is 81% of those who complete the six months of work experience. If you take the scheme as a whole, including everyone who commenced it and where they are at the end of the period—6,700 young people have now gone through the programme and through those six months—you will see that 53% of all of this cohort do not find a job at the end of the scheme. So, more than half of the people who enter Jobs Growth Wales are left unemployed at the end of the scheme. So, fewer than half—47%—find themselves in employment at the end of the six months. There are some, of course, who have moved on to apprenticeships, but only 20 people left the scheme early to take up an apprenticeship, so there is still this question—as has already been raised—as to the number of young people who leave the scheme, and God knows where they end up.
Youth unemployment for those under 25 is worse in Wales than in any other part of the UK at 21.3%. These are the real statistics from the ONS, not the experimental figures that the Government often refers to. The number has increased fourfold since this Government came into power. A fourfold increase in youth unemployment—that is what a Labour Government gives you. The First Minister wanted to take the praise for the prospering economy a little earlier, so the Deputy Minister has to take responsibility for this, without blaming Westminster. He refers to the decline in the number of NEETs to 20.3%, without saying that the comparative figure for England as a whole is much lower at 14%. This is a scheme that his leader, Ed Miliband, has said will be adopted across Britain if the Labour Party wins the next Westminster elections. So, it is appropriate that we should scrutinise its actual success here in Wales.
Plaid Cymru will continue to support the principle of Jobs Growth Wales, but ongoing support for the current management and arrangements will depend on what the Deputy Minister and the Welsh Government now do to improve retention, completion and actual real jobs taken up. The figure of 47.4% in employment from the whole cohort is not enough. I want to know whether the 70% figure that the Minister likes to use as his benchmark is for the whole cohort or only for the ones who complete because, obviously, if you just drop out, you quite easily reach a 70% or 80% mark for the ones who stay there.
You point out that some take up apprenticeships, which Plaid Cymru obviously supports because we did the apprenticeships with a budget deal with the Labour Government previously, but these can be accessed directly anyway—access to them for these young people is not dependent on Jobs Growth Wales. Therefore, that is an insufficient reason for the failure overall of this programme to date. Jobs Growth Wales remains at heart a decent scheme for those with qualifications or entrepreneurial zeal. Those creating their own companies are a particularly significant success of the programme; I acknowledge that. It does not really address NEETs or those without basic skills. Too many, therefore, in Wales are stuck in the revolving door between Jobs Growth Wales, the Work Programme, basic skills education and training, and other interventions, but ultimately fail to gain meaningful employment. This—Jobs Growth Wales—the First Minister said was the Welsh Government’s greatest contribution to fighting poverty. So, I hope that the Welsh Government and the Deputy Minister today will take the opportunity to say how they will now improve retention and completion, how they will sort out the interface with the Work Programme to get the best value for public money in all parts of all governments working together in Wales, and how Jobs Growth Wales can, in future, address the real outstanding needs of NEETs in Wales.
May I thank the Member for his contribution and his questions? First of all, at the outset, he is right that we judge this programme by the extent to which it is successful—by the success rate. First of all, I have to say that Plaid Cymru’s numbers with regard to Jobs Growth Wales are all over the place. They are inconsistent and confused. The latest press release that has gone out today, I understand, identifies the completion rate, or at least the positive progression rate, as 53%. I cannot comprehend where they have got those figures from. It is absolutely unbelievable. If you are going to pluck numbers out of the sky—. Let me just give you some others that you have come up with recently. You came up with 75%. Then you said 55%. You said two thirds. If you are going to pluck numbers out of the sky at least talk to one another and be consistent with it. The reason that I think you have come up with these figures is because you do not class apprentices as being in employment. That is as ignorant as it is insulting. You should apologise to more than 40,000 people who are currently on their apprenticeship frameworks in Wales. In terms of taking responsibility—[Interruption.] In terms of taking responsibility, if the Member will listen to me, I will give him another example of how Plaid Cymru should take responsibility. Back when it held the levers of control over the economic portfolio, long-term youth unemployment, as a proportion of the overall UK picture, was 8.4% in Wales. Then we took over the reins; it has dropped since to 6.7% and is falling, Presiding Officer.
The Member says that it is a decent scheme. It is better than that: it is Europe’s best youth employment scheme. I would invite the Member to declare whether, if Plaid Cymru ever formed a Government, it would abolish Jobs Growth Wales and replace it with the European youth guarantee, as I suspect it would. In terms of the questions he raised, this is precisely why we are carrying out an evaluation, which will be published in due course.
Deputy Minister, one of the things that you did not mention in your statement is the importance of EU funding, and that applies across Europe because of the importance of youth unemployment. For all the people who are getting jobs, we obviously welcome the success that has been achieved so far, but, of course, there remains an enormous amount to do. Within my constituency, we have one of the highest success rates, whereby 90% have obtained employment after going through this. Of course, the current figures indicate that further progress is being made. In the UK, there has been a 100% increase in youth unemployment, but the figure in Rhondda Cynon Taf, an area that has traditionally always had high unemployment figures, is only 60%. Sixty per cent is not good enough, but it is 40% less than those areas that, as you say, we have traditionally been compared with. I wonder, Minister, what it is within the current programmes that this Labour Government is pursuing that is successful, whereas there has been such a disaster arising from the cuts in the jobs growth employment programmes of the last Government, which were abandoned by the current Government. What is it that is being done right in Wales that is so clearly not being done right within the English programmes?
I thank the Member for his valuable contribution and for his questions. Mick Antoniw is absolutely right: without EU funding and without membership of the EU, it would be impossibly difficult to deliver this programme. It is a £90 million programme that relies on our membership of Europe in order to achieve. There is no doubt that Europe works for Wales and the 90% success rate in my friend and colleague’s constituency is seriously impressive. I know that some Members would prefer to use other methods of European youth employment initiatives to bring down unemployment, such as the European youth guarantee, but it should be mentioned today that the European Youth Forum only last month declared that the youth guarantee is a disappointment, that it is open to abuse, and that it does not exclude unpaid internships. This Welsh Labour Government believes that, if you are in work, you deserve to be paid for your work, and that is precisely what Jobs Growth Wales does. It recognises—this is why it has been so successful—the talents, aspirations and abilities of those young people who are participating. I do not believe that any young person wants to fail in life. Every single young person that I have met on Jobs Growth Wales wants to be a success. Another element of the success of the programme has been the addition of mentors who can carry through some people who need that additional support to get through the transition from youth into adulthood and then into sustained employment.
I will start by welcoming the fact that, as the economy continues to grow across the UK, unemployment is falling and a record number of people are in work, which is wonderful news. I would also like to thank the Deputy Minister for his statement, which I must say provides some interesting anecdotal evidence for the value of Jobs Growth Wales, and an equally interesting selection of statistics to support it.
I would like to drill down into those statistics in more detail, if I may, Deputy Minister, because the StatsWales website published by the Welsh Government gave me the same figures as it gave to Simon Thomas. May I also further point out that it is not us, but you, who does not class an apprenticeship as work, because your categories on that say ‘employed or an apprentice or Young Recruits programme’. So please, let us be clear here. Perhaps you would like to make an apology to all of those people whom you mentioned just a little earlier.
Going into some of the statistics, if I may, Deputy Minister, more than half of the people who leave the Jobs Growth Wales programme early—which, in the latest set of figures, was 1,079 people out of 2,033—are classed in your statistics as leaving ‘for other reasons’. You say that you have undertaken an analysis of those early leavers, so perhaps you will be in a position to tell us what kind of reasons come under ‘other’. With such a large sample, you must surely be able to develop some statistically significant sub-categories within that. In particular, I would be interested to know how many are leaving as a result of a problem with their placement, how many are leaving as a result of personal issues perhaps, and how many are leaving for issues that relate to the way in which their placement is being managed by the company that is looking after them.
I also wonder whether you would be able to give us an analysis as to the starting position of Jobs Growth Wales entrants, and what level of qualifications those young people are entering into the scheme with—across the board, not just in the graduate strand. What work experience do they have? In your statement, you say that they are likely to be entering employment for the first time—‘likely’ but not absolutely guaranteed to be. So, perhaps you can tell us what percentage have no work experience on entry to the programme, and what percentage have perhaps less than six months of work experience on entry to the programme. Also, given the fact that 17.5% of unemployed young people in Wales have been out of work for more than a year, perhaps you can tell us what percentage of Jobs Growth Wales entrants have, in fact, been unemployed for more than a year, as I said, in terms of targeting, if that is something that you believe is important.
I also want to drill down into the statistics that you use regarding NEET figures. You state that the NEET figure for 19 to 24-year-olds has fallen in Wales. You neglect to mention that the figure for 16 to 18-year-olds has remained absolutely static, while falling in the rest of the UK, and, of course, we are starting from a much higher base. I wonder whether the Deputy Minister would like to confirm the shocking fact that, actually, for those 16 to 18-year-olds that he has neglected to mention in his statement, the NEET rate in Wales is 20% higher than it is in England. Perhaps he could also confirm that the NEET rate for 19 to 24-year-olds, which he does want to talk about, and which, thankfully, is falling, is still 6% higher in Wales than the UK average.
Now, Deputy Minister, in responding to these kinds of figures previously, you have discussed the Lift programme, which was launched over Easter. I would welcome a statement to the Chamber on that, so that we can all explore it in more detail. However, last week’s NEET figures show an increase in the number of 16-year-old NEETs in Anglesey, Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire, and Powys, and yet the only Lift programme in north or mid Wales is in Anglesey. What is the Welsh Government actually going to do to target support in those areas that are not being supported by the Lift programme, and how did you target those areas, given that the need obviously exists in some different places as well?
Finally, I think that it would be remiss of me not to respond to the comments that you made to Mark Isherwood. The fact remains that the UK Government’s Work Programme targets its support at those who are most difficult to reach. The Welsh Government does not target its support at all, which means, inevitably, that it is likely to be helping those who were the easiest to reach. Now, you can perhaps put us right on that, if you can tell us what the starting position of those Jobs Growth Wales entrants was, but you have never taken the opportunity to do so, and you have never published any data on that particular issue. I wonder whether you have collected them at all.
I would like to thank the Member—[Interruption.]
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The Minister does not need any assistance in answering the questions, so can we just have some silence around here, please? I call the Deputy Minister.
I thank the Member for her questions. I have to say that the brass neck, from someone who u-turned on education maintenance allowances and on tuition fees, matches the shield that you hold up for the Tories on a permanent basis. I do recall that it was the Liberal Democrats who participated in the abolition of the Future Jobs fund, which has contributed to record levels of youth unemployment across England. Is that something that you remain proud of?
The Member states that we have presented interesting anecdotal evidence. I might suggest that opposition Members speak to those people who have participated in Jobs Growth Wales. They may conclude that it is, in fact, a great scheme that is changing lives across Wales.
In terms of the categories, the regional Member regularly misrepresents Jobs Growth Wales in press releases. Only this week, she issued a press release in which she said that apprentices are not work ready. Is it true that apprentices are not ready to enter the world of work? I find that an astonishing claim to make—astonishing, and disrespectful in the extreme. Apprentices are building a Welsh economy that will be resilient for the future. I admire them, not disparage them, as the Member opposite does. The reason we have categories, from which many Members on opposition benches selectively take figures, is because we want people to be able to appreciate just how many young people are progressing into apprenticeships. We could, of course, just class them all as being in employment. That may help them understand that apprentices are in employed status. The reason we do not and we separate it out is so that we can demonstrate the unparalleled success of this scheme.
Members opposite often like to cite Germany as a country that has the best apprenticeship system. As we came into this decade, Germany, admirably, had approximately 40 apprentices per 1,000 employees. Via Jobs Growth Wales, the equivalent figure is more than 250 per 1,000 people who are becoming employed. That is very impressive indeed. In terms of the Lift programme, I will, of course, ask my colleague the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty to address those points that you raised. However, this is part of an entire suite of interventions that comes within the youth engagement and progression framework. It does not stand alone. It ties in with traineeships, with the Work Ready programme and other interventions such as the apprenticeship system and the Essential Skills in the Workplace programme to ensure, and with justification we can say it, that unemployment will fall faster in Wales than across the UK as a whole.
Thank you for your statement, Deputy Minister. I for one congratulate the Welsh Government on a scheme which is changing the lives of over 1,300 people in Mid and West Wales. The Deputy Minister has previously spoken about how employers have told him just how much of a difference the talented and hard-working Jobs Growth Wales recruits have made to their businesses in terms of productivity and prospects for growth. I am keen to know whether the Government is able to quantify the productivity and growth. What figures does the Welsh Government collect and publish to demonstrate how Jobs Growth Wales is delivering growth in the Welsh economy and increasing productivity for Welsh businesses? I am also keen to get a clearer picture of the kind of sectors in which Jobs Growth Wales is most successful and whether the Welsh Government takes a strategic approach in engaging specific employers with this scheme in line with its wider economic direction and objectives.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) took the Chair at 15:43.
Finally, you have said that this is Europe’s best youth employment scheme and an example of Europe working for Wales. Are you having any discussions on an Europe-wide basis promoting our approach here in Wales given that youth unemployment is at an epidemic level in some parts of Europe?
I would like to thank the Member for her contribution and for the important points and questions that she raises. First of all, on economic growth, there is no doubt about it: Jobs Growth Wales is enabling recruitment to take place faster and it is introducing young people into the world of work far sooner than they would otherwise experience. We can provide figures that show that this has an enormous benefit. For example, the latest research from the University of York suggests that the cost of being NEET early on in adulthood amounts to approximately £130,000. Compare that to the cost of Jobs Growth Wales per participant of £6,000 and you can appreciate just what good value for money Jobs Growth Wales offers. In terms of productivity, bearing in mind that 26% progress into apprenticeships, we also know that productivity is boosted by more than £200 per week via an apprenticeship for employers. So, again, this demonstrates the great value of Jobs Growth Wales to the economy.
The evaluation will be examining the sectors, the specific success areas and the gender questions that I know some Members have raised with me. On a final point—as I said to Mick Antoniw—Europe is working for Wales. We are benefitting from the investment, and I have met with other Ministers from around Europe who are keen to learn more about Jobs Growth Wales as it demonstrates an effective way of dealing with the scourge of youth unemployment across our continent and the Western world.
Following the coastal storms last winter, I asked Natural Resources Wales to carry out a two-part review into the flood events, involving all affected coastal authorities. The first part of the review identified the impacts of the storms and the associated costs. This second part, published last Wednesday, identities what lessons we can learn and puts forward 47 recommendations and six priority themes. Deputy Presiding Officer, I would like to start by thanking NRW for its hard work in pulling together this comprehensive and constructive report. I am now considering in detail each of the recommendations identified.
The report shows that while the network of defences and emergency response to the coastal storms worked well, both were severely tested. Our investment in flood defence infrastructure protected over 99% of properties and land at risk, or 74,000 properties and 34,000 ha of land, preventing nearly £3 billion in damages. Despite the protection in place, we cannot be complacent and we need to accept that similar or worse coastal storms will happen again in the future. The recommendations contained within this review identify future challenges to maintain and build resilience to such events, particularly in the light of the increasing risks posed by climate change.
I broadly accept the six priority areas identified within the report to manage our coastal risk. They focus on sustained investment, improved information and plans, support to communities and the capacity of risk management authorities. Some of this work has already commenced, through increased funding to our flood programme, partnership schemes, the national strategy, Flood Awareness Wales and local flood plans, but we must not stop here. The review underlines the need for sustained support in all areas to ensure that we remain resilient in the face of climate change.
Since the coastal storms, we have worked across Government to support communities to recover from these storms. Collectively, we have provided over £10 million, including £7.2 million to repair damaged flood defences, over £2 million to support tourism and business and over £0.5 million to repair damaged sections of the Wales coast path. Managing the risks presented by flooding and coastal erosion remains a high priority for the Welsh Government and all risk-management authorities. This Government is investing more than £245 million in flood and coastal risk management, supported by almost £50 million from Europe. Despite cuts to our budget from the UK Government, we have been able to increase our flood budget, partly thanks to partnership funding, by over 54% in real terms since 2007-8.
Despite this level of investment, prioritising funding is vital. We have to acknowledge that it is not always sustainable or affordable to defend the entire coastline of Wales for ever. We have to take a risk-management approach to coastal defence infrastructure and make sensible, long-term decisions about how we develop our coastline in vulnerable locations, building resilience and working with others to respond to these future challenges.
Careful planning, prioritising investment and enhancing resilience in communities are key to flood-risk management. These approaches are closely linked to my own priorities and are already included within the objectives of the national strategy. Building in climate resilience and adapting communities will improve the lives of residents and will reduce risk well into the future. We need to ensure that individuals and communities at risk from flooding have an understanding of the risks that they face, how to live with these risks and how they can be supported in their recovery. The Flood Awareness Wales programme, managed by NRW, does a great job in raising awareness and building resilience in communities. I see its work as a vital part of enhancing resilience and tackling poverty. I am keen to build upon its work and to ensure that the message on flood risk and support in Wales is clear and consistent.
It is vital that we keep working together to improve not only the resilience of our coastline but also our response to severe weather incidents when they do occur. While we can never eradicate flood risk, we can reduce it through smart investments in the right places and by using the best available information to prepare and respond to flood and coastal events. We will continue to prioritise investment so that we can not only protect homes but also maximise opportunities to alleviate poverty and drive economic regeneration and growth. I will write to NRW this week to co-ordinate a delivery plan to take forward the report’s recommendations. I will also ask that findings are incorporated into the first review of our national strategy for flood and coastal risk management, due later this year.
We know that our climate is changing and, as a result, storms such as those witnessed earlier this year are likely to become more frequent in the future. We will continue to plan together for the future, as a Government fully committed to prioritising flood-risk management and building a resilient Wales.
I thank the Minister for his statement. I also echo the thanks to Natural Resources Wales for producing quite a comprehensive report in a relatively short time. While Wales in many respects escaped much of the flooding that we saw in other parts of the UK at the start of the year, that in no way downplays the impact of the severe weather on many of our local communities. When you look in retrospect, particularly at the near miss data in table 6 on page 88 of the report, you realise how close we could have been to an incident of national proportions.
Up until your statement today, you have indicated that coastal abandonment is not a policy that you have examined. Your statement today implies a change; I wonder whether you could expand on that.
In terms of questions, it would be useful to get a firm timetable from the Minister as to when the Government will formally respond to this report. Will you be responding to each recommendation, and do you accept all of the recommendations?
In relation to the recommendations, there is a significant cost implication for present and future budgets, particularly for the time frames in which those budgets will be set. Can I therefore ask the Minister whether he has discussed the cost implications of the report with Natural Resources Wales, and what is the estimated cost envelope attached to these recommendations?
In terms of the accuracy of forecast modelling, I know that this is a challenging issue for the Met Office going forward. I have been involved with incidents of flooding near the Clywedog dam, and I know that the Minister is aware of those as well. The forecasters and, perhaps more importantly, some the equipment determining weather probability for the area are based just west of Birmingham, so I wonder how our Government intends to work with its partners to improve local weather modelling.
The report states that coastal communities need to be more engaged in developing national policy, but that, also, they need to be in a better position through multi-agency support to develop their own flood plans and be more self-sufficient and self-resilient. With no two communities being the same in relation to geography and priorities, striking the right balance between local and national is going to be a challenge, because one size clearly does not fit all. So, what do you, Minister, believe should be the balance between community and Government responsibility and ownership? The other issue is that communities are going to produce a range of local flood plans for the wider community, for schools, and for businesses. A degree of expertise is required to facilitate their production and to test them. So, how does the Minister intend for capacity to be increased in this area, and how will plans be tested, particularly at the more extreme end of the flooding spectrum?
The focus on co-ordination and improving the clarity of roles is important. Also, the report highlights that there are 31 risk-management authorities in Wales, although the number has reduced slightly recently with the abolition of the drainage boards. Yet there is still a significant number of organisations and agencies. So, the question for me is one of how this structure can be simplified and streamlined.
Finally, there is a focus on developing volunteer warden leads in local communities to help with co-ordination. I have raised this idea previously of creating a national civil volunteering body that could react to incidents of civil emergencies, like flooding. Is the Minister prepared to examine this further in the light of these recommendations? I thank him again for his statement, and also thank Natural Resources Wales for what I thought was a very good response to the flooding that we had earlier this year.
I would like to start my response to you by thanking you for your kind words, and I will certainly ensure that Natural Resources Wales appreciates the kind words that you have spoken about it as well.
You raised a number of very detailed questions there. The reason I wanted to make an oral statement this afternoon was to inform Members of how I intend to respond to the recommendations that have been made in this report. There are 47 different recommendations, as Members are aware. Some of them are quite detailed, and some of them will require considerable work to ensure that we are able to be in a position to give not simply a response here in the Chamber, but a response over time to ensure that we do treat this with the seriousness that it is due. I will be making a further statement on this matter before the summer recess to give you the certainty that you require and have a right to expect that we will continue to work with NRW to deliver on this report.
You asked me whether I accept all of the recommendations. We are currently working through the recommendations. I would not like to give you the undertaking that we accept all the recommendations as written today. However, let me say this: I think that the recommendations provide a very good framework to take the work forward. I agree with the thematic way in which they have been grouped, and the themes that NRW placed in this document in order to enable us to understand the way in which the recommendations should be pursued.
Have I discussed the cost implications with NRW? Not since last Wednesday, I have not. Clearly, this will be a matter that will form a conversation between NRW and us. I will say to you that I have written to the Minister for Finance today to alert her to the contents of the report, and when I say ‘the contents of the report’ I mean what is actually written in the report, not what was reported in the media last week. I think the media got a number of those different matters quite wrong. Clearly, we will need to ensure that we are able to sustain the investment that we are making in flood defences and coastal defences, and we as a Government are committed to doing that. Members will be aware that we have increased investment in these areas at a time of declining budgets. Members will also be aware that we have not followed the same approach taken by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in England, which has led to a whole range of chaotic responses to the storms earlier this year. We are ploughing our own furrow on this matter, as you will know, and we will continue to do so. I believe that our acceptance of the human cost and the human role in climate change is fundamental to that.
What I would say to Russell George, who has proposed an amendment to a debate tomorrow afternoon, is that it ill becomes a party that does not fully embrace and accept climate change to lecture us on the consequences of climate change. You do need to understand the impact that climate change is going to have on our communities now and in the future. We recognise that, and that is the reason why we are going to continue to make the investments that we are making.
To pursue your other questions: forecasting accuracy is clearly an area that we need to continue to invest in. I felt that the accuracy of forecasting over the period of December and January was actually very good, and enabled people to prepare to deal with the consequences of the storms. We need to continue to develop that, and we are going to do so. I thought that it was a very interesting question that you asked on the balance between community and Government ownership of the response to flood incidents and these storms. I think that the balance may be different in different places, but, certainly, I think that we need to have an honest debate with communities about what Government can deliver and what the community needs to deliver itself, and how we can empower communities to take responsibility for the management of flood risk within those communities. That is an interesting and fundamental debate that we have to have as a country.
You asked me—you challenged me, passively—about coastal abandonment. Clearly, this is something that has been in the news, particularly the Merionethshire coast, over the last few weeks and months. I will be reviewing the shoreline management plans when they come to me for decision over the next few months. I will ensure that any decisions I take are made public immediately and that we engage with all communities that are potentially affected by any of those decisions at the earliest option. The shoreline management plans are a non-statutory function. They will enable us to create a framework within which decisions can be taken by both Government and others. It will be a real and active debate that we need to have with communities up and down Wales as to how we manage this risk into the future.
I thank the Minister for his statement. I also thank Natural Resources Wales for a comprehensive report that has been prepared in a short time and at busy time for the body, there is no doubt about that. It is four months, Minister, since we were walking on Aberystwyth prom, seeing the destruction on the prom, at the beginning of January. Excellent work has been done in all parts of Wales, by everyone involved, to ensure that our coastline is ready for the peak tourism season, which is upon us since the Easter holidays.
As the NRW report notes and recognises, that damage could have been much worse in many communities if there had not been very significant investment in coastal defence programmes over the past few years. Communities such as Borth and Aberaeron have certainly benefited from that investment.
In your statement today, and in the report, you highlight the importance of investment in flood defences. But, we cannot invest everywhere at the same time. Therefore, there is a major question now as to how the Government, and also experts, will prioritise where these defences are to be erected first and also, now, how we include areas that were not seen as being at high risk in that flood defence work. I am referring to a town such as Aberystwyth, which had not appeared to be facing any substantial risk until this winter. I ask you, this afternoon, to outline further how you believe we can further improve the transparency that is so necessary when taking decisions and establishing criteria for deciding where investment is to be prioritised.
One of the six priorities in NRW report is to improve clarity on the responsibilities of various agencies on these issues. There have been cases where there have been historical decisions as to which public authority is responsible for different aspects of flood defence, both on our coastlines and terrestrially. The question that many landowners—particularly farmers—ask me is: where can they access support and advice on the steps that they need to take in their private work of protecting their own land. It is important that there should be clarity for everyone involved as to where the responsibility lies and where advice is available to private landowners to safeguard the coastline.
I have two other issues, briefly. There was an emphasis in your statement today on the support required by communities to respond and protect themselves from the impacts of flooding. It is important that public authorities provide support for this, while understanding that they cannot be everywhere all the time during those busy periods. I have seen how the Tal-y-bont community responded to the crisis that it faced a few years ago. The community has put plans in place should such a crisis arise again so that it can respond proactively to that. We must bear in mind that that is to be welcomed of course, but there are vulnerable people in these communities, very often older people. There is a need to ensure, as communities look to protect themselves and as individuals look at how they can protect their properties, that there is support available to the most vulnerable in our communities as they cope with the risk of flooding risks, which can happen within hours or even minutes. Therefore, I would ask you to ensure that NRW, in its work, gives particular attention to this issue.
Finally, Minister, it was only this weekend, I believe, that we were celebrating in Wales two years since the opening of the Wales coastal path, which is certainly something to celebrate. Most of the coastal path was open so that people could enjoy it over the weekend, but there were also sections of it that were closed following the effects of the winter storms. Parts of the path, of course, are continually eroding as we see climate change taking effect. Therefore, the question for you, as we think of the next 10 to 20 years in terms of the Wales coastal path, is: how do you ensure that there is a continuing programme in place to support landowners and local authorities to ensure that the coastal path is repaired when necessary, or that the route is changed in certain areas to respond to the fact that the coastline is eroding inevitably into the sea in some areas? It is certainly important that we ensure that the entire coastal path is in place for the long term.
I think that the spokesperson for Plaid Cymru has asked some fair questions about how we prioritise expenditure for the future. I believe that the example that you chose—and which I would have chosen—namely Aberystwyth, is a very good example. Had we not visited Aberystwyth in January I do not think that any of us would have believed what we saw as a result of those storms at the beginning of the year. It was pure pleasure to walk along the promenade again during the Easter period, seeing that it had been repaired to enable us to enjoy that promenade once again.
We will continue to prioritise in terms of the risk to property, life and business, in the way that we have done in the past. I do not see that we will change the way that we prioritise, and I hope that that is already a thorough process. However, I believe that the decisions may very well change. You would not have selected Aberystwyth as a town that faces risk in the way that you would today, and neither would I. Therefore, as we learn lessons from these storms and from the impacts of climate change on our communities, and the country as a whole, we will need to change the decisions and challenge the decisions that we have already taken. As a national community, I believe that we will need to have that discussion, exactly in the way that I, hopefully, explained to Russell George. We will need to hold discussions about how we defend our towns and communities along the coastline in order to ensure that people are safe in their homes, and so that we can deal with how climate change creates different sorts of storms in the future.
You spoke about the 31 risk management authorities, and I know that Russell George also referred to that. I tend to think that they work very well together. Of course, the majority of them are local authorities, along with NRW, the Welsh Government and the water companies, and I think that the internal drainage boards will be part of NRW. I think that there has been very good collaboration, and there is evidence that that work has been effective. However, I agree that we need to ensure that that continues to improve.
The other two questions that you asked were about responsibilities and support. I thoroughly agree with your description and analysis of those who are vulnerable and those who face major risks in their homes and communities across Wales. We have a responsibility to ensure their safety, that they are safe in their homes and that that they would be safe should they be at risk as a result of storms or flooding. As part of any plan that we will develop with communities, we need to ensure that vulnerable people receive the support they need. Then, we can have that debate about responsibilities and where those responsibilities should lie, not just for planning itself, but for the implementation of the plans.
At present, I think that some communities take more responsibility than others because of their experiences. What I would like to see are plans that are living plans, where people understand and accept responsibilities, wherever they may lie, and for people to understand how they would respond if there was a need for them to do that.
With regard to your last question about the coastal path, the Minister responsible for that path is in his seat here and has heard your question. It is important that we invest in the coastal path for the future. The path has been an incredible success over recent years, and I very much hope that we will continue to invest in its future success.
I want to thank you for your statement, Minister. I am sure that all Members, on all sides, will recognise your efforts to ensure that flood risk management is a key priority for this Government; that is clearly reflected in the spending figures that you outlined, despite the Westminster-imposed cuts, as you have mentioned.
A few weeks ago, I met up with Gwynedd Council officers and members to discuss progress on the Pwllheli climate change adaptation pilot project. That project, as you know, is one of three studies in Wales to assess how flood risk can be managed in the long term over the next 100 years and, maybe, longer. Minister, what have those studies revealed, and how will the lessons and insights be applied to the flood awareness Wales programme and the shoreline management plans?
On the shoreline management plans, I also recently visited Fairbourne, and I met Peter Cole, chair of the Fairbourne Facing Change community group, to talk about Gwynedd Council’s draft shoreline management plan. When you gave evidence to the Environment and Sustainability Committee last month, you corrected media reports explaining that no decisions have, as yet, been taken. However, do you agree that the furore caused by the erroneous media reports underlined the importance of clear communication? Will you ensure that long-term flood planning continues to be led by open, honest and transparent public engagement?
Finally, will you join me in paying tribute to all of the Natural Resources Wales staff who worked right across the Christmas and new year holidays to protect, inform and, very often, aid the rescue of those who needed it?
I certainly will join you in paying tribute to the staff of NRW. I think that Members across the Chamber were grateful for the work and commitment of NRW staff over this period, together with staff from the emergency services, local authorities and volunteers, such as the Royal National Institute of Blind People, who worked extraordinarily hard over that period to maintain people’s security and safety. I think that everybody remains very grateful to them and recognises the work that they did.
It is difficult to give spending commitments over a period of 25 years. However, we are committed, within this Government, to ensuring that we are making the investments that are required to ensure that we maintain the structure of coastal and flood defences that are currently in place. We have seen a significant increase over the last five years in that expenditure in the face of some considerable spending cuts, as you have rightly outlined.
We have also seen the consequences—the absolute chaos—when you make cuts in that investment. So, we will be investing—certainly, for the lifetime of this Government, we will continue to invest—in those coastal defences, and we will be working with NRW to ensure that we have recognition of the level of investment that is needed in future.
The points that you make on climate change are very real. It is the acceptance of climate change as something that is fundamentally changing our weather patterns, changing the way we plan and the decisions that we take that differentiates this Government’s decisions from those across the way in London.
When we talk about the issue of Fairbourne—and I sympathise greatly with the community of Fairbourne and the people who live there—I thought that it was grotesquely unfair the way they were treated by the BBC a few months ago, with regard to the way in which that whole subject was reported. I will be looking at the shoreline management plans over the next few months and I will take a view on those shoreline management plans. I will not be doing this in isolation, but in the full recognition that these shoreline management plans are not academic documents, but documents that affect the lives of people in communities up and down Wales. We will not be taking any decisions lightly and we will not be taking any decisions behind closed doors. We will have an open debate about how we manage the coastline in Wales and how we do so into the future.
Thank you, Minister, for today’s statement.
Like many other Members around the Chamber, I also saw the damage that was caused by the winter storms at first hand and the impact on businesses in Aberystwyth and elsewhere, such as the Richmond Hotel and the more severely affected Marine Hotel. As the Minister is only too aware, it is very rare for the seafront hostelries and hotels to be closed for business, and it is testament to the swift response of all involved that the majority were up and running relatively soon after the storms.
The effects of the storms highlighted a number of serious issues that should concern us, but for which, in some respects, we should be grateful. We learned, for example, that while we need to be mindful of the threat posed by these events in the context of climate change, as the Minister correctly emphasised, we also have an incredibly resilient community spirit in towns up and down this country, and people will still pull together to clean up the mess after such a crisis. As such, I, once again, add my voice to the tributes that have been paid around the Chamber today to all those involved, whether in a personal or professional capacity. This community spirit and local expertise will have a central role to play in the time to come, as we manage our coastlines. As such, I am glad to see it reflected in the NRW report today.
In specific terms, the report notes that local adaptation plans must be fully implemented by a community, and that includes the communications and management strategy. I welcome the Minister’s comments with regard to the vulnerable and the elderly, and the primacy that they must have in these situations. I would be grateful if the Minister could please expand a little further on how he foresees this strategy developing and on the role that the recommendations for an enhanced Wales coastal monitoring centre may have in ensuring that the use of local knowledge and voluntary expertise is fully utilised.
Another key point raised during the recent storms and in the report relates to the role of Network Rail and the way in which it ensures that our coastlines are better defended from flooding and coastal erosion. Whether along the north Wales link or the Cambrian line, much of our current coastline is now defined by these lines. As such, I am pleased to see that the report recognises this fact and also notes that it took the hard work of everyone involved, up until last week, to get the Cambrian line back up and running. I pay particular tribute to Dylan Bowen of Network Rail and his colleagues for communicating so fully with Members from around the Chamber.
Related to this, it is also important to note the recognition that needs to be given to the long-term sustainability of existing Network Rail routes in the context, once again, of climate change. Back in January, when we first discussed the storms, there was an agreement between us that we do indeed need to take a long-term look at some of these environments and ask some very difficult and probing questions. In other words, simple like-for-like replacements of defences cannot form always the basis of a long-term plan. I know that, within NRW at the highest level, there has been consistent interest in these matters. Therefore, it is good to see it reflected in recommendation 46.
Finally, Minister, I am grateful for the assurances you have given us regarding the fullness of the consultations that will take place around shoreline management plans, going forward. I ask you please to address specifically the implications for individual and business insurances that may apply. Could you reassure the house that there will be a strong degree of sensitivity in looking at the potential impacts that could otherwise act to blight individuals and businesses?
I hope that I can give you that reassurance that we will take seriously our responsibilities in these matters, and that we will not simply sign off a document because it meets the convenience of a civil servant or a Minister elsewhere. Any planning document that has this impact on people’s lives, businesses and futures we will take and deal with appropriately. There will not be any rushing on my part in order to meet a false deadline.
In terms of your other wider points, I agree and I understand exactly what you say about a resilient community spirit. We rely on that a great deal at present and have done so in the past. However, I do not think that we should simply rely on a community spirit; we have to provide communities with support. We have to ensure that communities have the means, the mechanisms, the structures and the frameworks within which they can work, and within which they can support each other to respond to these episodes. So, we will be working with communities up and down Wales to deliver flood plans and flood planning that deliver security and safety for people within those communities.
The point on infrastructure is very well made. There are parts of Wales, particularly the north Wales coast, the Cambrian coast, Pembrokeshire and here in Cardiff and Newport, where we have significant nationally important infrastructure very close to the coast, and which has sometimes played a part in those defences. We need to look hard at the resilience of that infrastructure, and we need to work, as the north Wales coastal forum already does, on delivering a partnership approach to ensure that we work alongside these organisations, businesses and corporations to deliver security in terms of our infrastructure into the future.
Finally, to test your patience, Deputy Presiding Officer, long-term planning is exactly the way in which the conversations that I have had with NRW are going. We look to the long term. We need to plan, which is a difficult thing to do with a political cycle every four or five years; it can be very difficult to ensure that we have that security of knowledge and that we have a commitment across the Chamber to ensure that long-term planning is able to take place in a mature way. I think that there is an understanding of the impact of climate change. There certainly is on this side of the Chamber. I am unsure, frankly, where our Conservative friends stand on global warming and the impact of climate change; they have different views on different days with different people at different times. However, I hope that they will join the modern world at some point.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I still have two Members who want to be called. We are over time, but this is an important subject and I certainly want a variety of views beyond just what the party spokespeople are saying, but please be succinct. I call Darren Millar.
Thank you, Minister, from a fairly modern Conservative. I can certainly say that I very much appreciated the report that was done by Natural Resources Wales on the flooding situation, which had an impact on my constituency, as you will know from your visit to it.
I wish to stress a number of recommendations in the report, and encourage you to take those forward. First, on the one in relation to secondary defences, as you will be aware, one of the problems that occurred in Kinmel Bay was that while the primary defence had been overtopped, there was flooding to a number of properties and to a local holiday park site that had occurred largely as a result of a breach in the secondary defences, which had not been identified prior to the flooding event. It is important that those secondary defences and the riparian owners that are responsible for them undertake regular inspection and maintenance of those secondary defences in the future. I note that there is a recommendation also in relation to inspection, and I wonder what role Natural Resources Wales might be able to play in ensuring that there is adequate inspection and maintenance of secondary defences in particular in the future.
I was very interested as well to see reference made to the planning system. I appreciate that the Minister for planning is just leaving the Chamber, but it is quite clear that there are issues in relation to the planning system that could be improved, and I would urge you to work with the Minister for planning on a review of technical advice note 16, which, in my opinion, is still allowing far too many developments to proceed in spite of flood risk in areas where they are proposed.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Make this the last point.
In relation to the flood warning systems that are in place, I note that there is a recommendation that suggests that the flood warning system should emphasise Natural Resources Wales as the source of flood warnings here in Wales, but, of course, we have a national media system across the whole of the United Kingdom and I am just a little bit concerned that confusion may arise as a result of that. We want to make sure that flood warnings are accessible to as many people as possible—
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
[Continues.]—and I would urge just a little bit of caution in relation to that recommendation.
I thank the thoroughly modern Conservative for those remarks and questions. The point made on secondary defences is absolutely well made, and I agree very much with the approach you have taken. It was certainly a point made during our visit to Kinmel Bay and my visit alongside Ann Jones to see Rhyl as well. Many of the difficulties we faced arose because not only had the primary defences been compromised, but the secondary defences had been too. The whole system of coastal defences and flood defences that we have in place needs to be recognised as a whole and not as individual parts. Certainly, in terms of the conversations we had earlier about our infrastructure and the place of infrastructure, there is a requirement to ensure that not only are the primary and secondary defences are in place, but that the infrastructure around it is protected as well. On a visit to Rhyl, I saw examples of where infrastructure had been placed between the primary and secondary defences. Clearly, that is something that we will have to address in future.
The point about landowners’ responsibilities is one that is well made and understood. Elin Jones raised this issue as well, and it is important that we work alongside people who are landowners to ensure that everybody understands the role they can play in protecting communities up and down the country. In terms of the inspection, management and maintenance of defences, you will see that one of the recommendations is to ensure that we have a national register available to us of those defences. The reason for that, of course, is to develop a tool that we can use in order to deliver exactly the sort of management and maintenance you argue for. The points about planning issues are well made and I think that the Minister for planning probably did hear your question. It is a matter that we discuss between us on a regular basis.
Finally, in terms of a flood warning system, I think that the recommendation talks about branding issues as much as it talks about the substance of those issues, and that is about the creation of NRW and it replacing the Environment Agency. It is not there to develop a whole new system of flood warnings to replace what we have now. It is about how they are branded, how people understand that and how people recognise what NRW is saying.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
I have two brief questions. I am concerned about the fact that we did not have a clear timetable set out by the Minister in terms of approving the second phase of the shoreline management plans, because progressive coastal authorities, such as Gwynedd, are very eager to progress with the various schemes within the various phases of the programmes. I accept that it is essential that there is consultation and understanding; also, having read this report—and I am grateful for it—it is very important that investments are also being made.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
The second point is a point that has already been made by my colleague, on Network Rail. The £10 million that has just been spent on restoring the rail line from Glanaber to Harlech is excellent and it was done in very short order. It is very important that we can agree between the Welsh Government, Natural Resources Wales, the local authorities, Welsh Water and, indeed, private and commercial owners across the coastline, so that we have co-ordination and integration in all of the schemes that deal with coastal flood risk, and so that we can take these difficult decisions, particularly where we will need to relocate rail lines and roads as part of our infrastructure in order to face the risk that will come in our direction.
I very much hope, and I do think, that we have agreement across this Chamber that the impact of climate change is going to mean that we will have to change the way that we take decisions and the type of decisions that we take. I do hope that our colleagues in the Conservative party will join in this consensus to ensure that we can give assurance to the people of Wales—the assurance that they deserve and need—that this place takes these issues seriously and not only plans for the next election, but for generations to come. I very much hope that we can do that.
When it comes to the shoreline management plans that you have discussed, may I say this? It is clear that some will say different things from others. What I would like to do is to be able to gain agreement on those things that will not create controversy quickly, but then spend the necessary time on those that need time to be spent on them. So, we will prioritise where we spend time and use our resources to ensure that people feel comfortable with what is being offered. I do not want to be rushed, and I know that Gwynedd, among other authorities, is very keen to move forward on these issues, but I am not willing to do so until I feel that we have had this discussion with the people and communities that will face the outcome of our discussions and decisions in this area. I do not think that that is there now.
I recognise the frustration that you feel that there is not a timetable available for this as yet. What I would like to tell you is that I will be able to make a statement on that before the summer recess.
Tackling poverty is one of the Welsh Government’s fundamental priorities. Responsibility does not lie exclusively with one department or Government, but with civil society as a whole in Wales. Our cultural institutions play a vital role. Museums, libraries, archives, historic monuments and arts organisations are key resources that can inspire people to learn and gain skills. They can help individuals and communities to develop confidence and a sense of identity. We must show that, even in the current financial climate—and, indeed, because of the current financial climate—we are absolutely determined that culture will make a difference to the lives of our most disadvantaged citizens.
All our communities should benefit from the great cultural strengths of Wales, building interest, appreciation and participation. The question of how best to address this in a strategic way has not been adequately addressed in any other UK country. That is why one of my first actions as Minister for Culture and Sport was to ask Baroness Kay Andrews to carry out this review. Kay fulfilled a series of prominent roles both in the UK Government and in the education and heritage sectors. I would like to pay tribute to her for the passion and commitment that she brought to this important piece of work. Her report makes a powerful case for arts, culture and heritage and the transformational role that they can play. Where barriers to participation exist—psychological, financial or geographical—we must work to eradicate them. Those working in the cultural sector are very aware of the impact that participation brings, whether it is a child visiting a museum for the first time, or an adult volunteer learning new skills. Indeed, there are many examples of outstanding work already happening, and several of these are highlighted in Kay’s report.
Our libraries play a crucial role in improving literacy, which is so fundamental to our efforts to tackle poverty. For instance, Denbighshire library service has an impressive track record in promoting participation in summer reading and other schemes. The Welsh Government’s community learning libraries programme has revitalised our libraries, many in our more disadvantaged areas, leading to significant increases in usage. Caerphilly library service in particular has transformed several buildings into welcoming and lively cultural venues that incorporate library provision and other vital services. Our national library is renewing its leadership role.
Our archive and museum services provide valuable educational experiences and encourage a sense of belonging. Our national museum is leading the way, with a strong sense of responsibility and commitment. The Egypt Centre in Swansea is a museum that places social justice at its core. It is rare in the UK in having a child volunteer programme. Many volunteers have come to the museum with low self-esteem, having had problems with the traditional educational system, yet several have gone on to higher education. Saturday workshops—designed to improve literacy and numeracy, raise confidence, and foster a love of learning—are targeted at socially and economically disadvantaged children, particularly those in Communities First clusters. The conserving local communities heritage project, led by Glamorgan Archives, has provided work-based training opportunities in archives and other cultural organisations for 16 bursary holders across south Wales.
Our arts organisations provide rewarding participatory experiences, often boosting ambition and engagement where more formal education has not. The Film in Afan project, run by the Film Agency for Wales in the Afan valley, addresses the lack of cultural activities in the area. Working with Communities First and local schools, the project created a mobile cinema run by the community. It provides film-making and literacy workshops, along with mentoring in business and marketing, to create new skills and work experience. Our historic environment sector similarly offers many opportunities. The community archaeology approach being pioneered by Cadw offers people routes into learning. At Segontium Roman fort in Caernarfon, a Cadw-funded community heritage post has focused on engaging the local community through participative events and activities.
So, much is happening, and we do have many good examples, but, as ever, clearly, there is scope to do more, and more effectively. Kay’s report therefore identifies a number of issues and makes practical recommendations, including the need to demonstrate the impact of cultural participation to other sectors, policymakers, and schools. I am pleased to see the focus on supporting attainment within formal education settings. Professor Dai Smith’s recent report on arts in education argued very convincingly that the arts and creativity should be central to school life. This report supports and complements Dai’s findings. I know the Minister for Education and Skills is very supportive of this agenda, and officials in both our departments are working together to identify greater opportunities to utilise culture within, and outside of, the school day. The Arts Council of Wales is demonstrating great commitment to this vital agenda.
Kay also identified the need for organisations to work together better to have a greater impact on the ground. New partnerships are needed at both national and local level. Our major bodies need to come together in a meaningful way to develop powerful joint approaches to tackling poverty. That needs to happen not only at national level, with close links between the major players, but also at local level. In some parts of Wales, this is already happening. In Swansea, for example, the city’s cultural bodies and Communities First clusters are already working to develop local programmes of activity suited to their communities. This is the kind of commitment we are keen to see extended.
Funding, or the lack of it, is, of course, at the forefront of many minds at national and local government levels, and difficult decisions have to be taken. I will not pretend that there are not difficult choices to make, but reaching those in poverty needs to be treated as a core part of the role of cultural bodies, not an optional extra. What is crucial now is that we develop an effective approach to delivery. We need an approach that can be sustained and built over time to achieve long-term impact. It is clear that a new level of partnership working must be developed.
In addition to responding formally to Baroness Andrews’s recommendations, I will therefore develop a road map for delivery and publish both in the autumn. In developing our response, we will be working closely with key stakeholders and, of course, across Government departments. This will provide a framework that will help organisations to come together and help develop the vision Kay has set out. The Welsh Government is determined to increase our effectiveness in tackling poverty in Wales. This report will play an important part in that crucial work.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
We have a lot of speakers for this one, so I ask people to be as succinct as possible. I will try to stretch the time also, because I do not want to crowd anyone out. However, it is a bit difficult, as we have another couple of statements following. I call Suzy Davies.
Diolch, Ddirprwy Lywydd. I will do my best. Thank you, Minister, for your statement. Could I also put on record my thanks to Baroness Andrews for her report? Without reflecting on Baroness Andrews and her work in any way at all, I did raise an eyebrow that we had had yet another independent report in this sector conducted by someone with close associations with the Government party. However, before you pile in on that, as I said, that observation is not a comment on the quality or independence of this particular report, rather an issue of perception. When it comes to the arts and heritage—as well as our media—it is a well-established principle that the length of arm from Government needs to be seen to be long.
Minister, you will find us supporting quite a lot of the suggestions in this report. We appreciate the examples of good practice and case studies, and I am very pleased to see references to certain activities in my own region. I wonder whether I can begin by asking you about how you intend to deal with the suggestion in the report that—. We have lots of examples in our approach to the arts, culture and heritage at the moment that I would call a fireworks approach, if you like, whereby people who are perhaps not regularly exposed to culture and heritage as a means of self-enrichment are exposed suddenly to high-quality, high-expense cultural experiences, often with a public policy element, which perhaps give a moment of bright light, but without any long-term illumination. I wonder, therefore, whether you could give us a sneak preview of how your road map might work with this difficult dilemma. For our culture and heritage to have any chance at all of helping with tackling poverty, it must be a local and persistent presence in our communities, yet longevity is costly, and therefore possibly likely to affect quality without any significant extra funds. I am wondering whether you have already come to any conclusions about how you might deal with this dilemma raised by Baroness Andrews. While I would agree that some children will feel a positive impact on visiting a museum for the first time—I think that that was your example—for the population-level impact that you need to improve literacy and other curriculum outcomes, as well as confidence and additional skills, which are at the heart of tackling poverty, you are going to need something more than that flash-bang-wallop approach to allowing people access to the arts. It clearly can be done. The Olympic legacy on sport shows that. However, I am not quite sure that the cultural Olympiad did quite the same.
Professor Dai Smith’s complementary report, shall we say, indicated that culture and community did not always know to communicate, and that this was responsible in part for the failure to observe delivery against strategic aims. This report suggests that responsibility for some joined-up thinking may lie nearer to the top of the pyramid. I can see a suggestion that an inclusive board be set up in addition to other advisory boards that you have announced previously here in Plenary. My queries around this suggestion are many, but perhaps I can just restrict them, Deputy Presiding Officer, to two. First of all, what is the current support that you receive from the delivery unit in bringing bodies together to help them fulfil Government policy objectives? Secondly, does it suggest that the design of this sort of strategic direction and leadership might be better focused a little further out from the centre of Government? If we are to have another layer of bureaucracy, Minister, you will have to explain why your department has not been able to bring local authorities and culture and heritage organisations, large and small, to meet the leadership challenge identified by Baroness Andrews to date.
One of the recommendations nods at a stronger conditionality being attached to public funds that are given to third parties and, I suspect, by extension, to Cadw. I do not disagree with that, but I would be pleased to hear your views on how to achieve what has to be here a delicate balance. I hope, like me, that you do not want to see culture and heritage organisations reduced to just deliverers of Government policy driven by targets to a degree that they cease to have any meaningful role as enrichers of lives more generally. Can you confirm that any introduction of key performance indicators will be clear in what they are intended to show and that the obligations to meet them will not be so severe that organisations cease to be free to concentrate on their own core aims?
The report also looks at the grass-roots end of the ability to lead and plan. You referred to that in your statement. It is a fair point. I wonder, Minister, whether you can tell me how poorer areas in rural parts of Wales, outside Communities First areas, could benefit from the approach raised in the report. Some of these communities will be among the communities that, from time to time, get one-off experiences of high-quality culture, but may be excluded from sustainable participation. That is a question of whether Communities First can do it all.
Other organisations may be able to benefit from the ‘cynefin’ approach detailed in the report, with a strong emphasis on volunteers, which you mentioned in your statement. It also features highly in your thinking on the heritage Bill. How can you be sure that those organisations with a more fluid structure will not be overwhelmed by resources heading off down the Communities First route, if I can put it like that?
The report acknowledges that there are swathes of the country—I cannot read my writing here—who are unbothered by intervention. The issues that I raise with these questions are important in areas where local authorities see culture as an easy hit for budget cuts. I cite the West Glamorgan Youth Theatre Company as one of the best paradigms of ‘go local and stay permanent’ that I can think of, but, of course, it has lost all its funding.
Finally and briefly, co-location of services was mentioned in your statement. That is clearly advantageous but it leaves behind buildings that may be able to be used by the organisations that I have referred to. That cannot be an excuse to dump expensive and poorly maintained buildings on smaller organisations. I wonder whether you are able, in your response, to comment on how appropriate management of those buildings—not abandoned buildings, but those that are left behind—might be accommodated in any strategy to use culture and heritage in tackling poverty.
First, I would like to thank the Member for her general welcome of the report. In terms of Baroness Kay Andrews and her suitability to conduct this work, she is eminently well qualified in terms of her background, the work that she has done over many years and her commitment to this agenda and tackling poverty. I hope that she will be judged by the quality of the report and its recommendations; that is entirely right.
On the roadmap, funding issues and ensuring sustainability, it is crucial that we have a long-term approach that finds the right balance between dealing with short-term issues and making sure that we are futureproofed with the work that goes forward as a result of this report. That is why it is so important that the major institutions are brought together in joint leadership and alignment. It is about understanding what culture and heritage can bring to tackling poverty and then aligning our major cultural institutions, our local authorities, our schools and education sector, and the effort in tackling poverty with the longer term, as well as the shorter term, challenges. So, that is obviously what this report seeks to do. If we can do that effectively, I think that we will have sustainability.
As far as the board is concerned, again it is very much about bringing these key players together around the report, with a clear focus, joined-upness and alignment. Obviously, there are resource implications to all of that, including the way that existing budgets are used and best used.
On KPIs, it is quite clear now that the general Welsh Government strategy is towards results-based accountability. We want to have effective KPIs in place that very much deliver on that. This is very much working with the grain of existing direction, not just for Welsh Government but also for all of our key stakeholders. So, we will have clarity around those key performance indicators. Obviously, this does have to apply right across Wales, and there will be particular challenges, as the Member identified, in rural areas, just as in other parts of Wales. So, in mainstreaming the approach with this leadership from all of the major players, we will reach all parts of Wales. Obviously, local authorities have a key role there if we join up effectively with Dai Smith’s report on arts in education; then we will be putting local authorities and our schools at the forefront of much of this work. Hopefully, that will be very effective in all parts of Wales.
I meet regularly with the Welsh Local Government Association, with lead members in local authorities, and with lead officers in terms of some of the funding issues that the Member mentions, and in terms of reaching all parts of Wales. Some aspects of that are about co-location and its advantages, which I think are very strong, but also, of course, about how we use assets in general, including buildings that are vacated in that process.
I strongly welcome this report and the fact that it recognises culture in its widest sense and its impact on everyone in the community. I just wanted to ask some quick questions about some of the suggestions in the report. One of the suggestions is that every opportunity should be used to promote arts, culture and literature. One proposal is that breakfast clubs should be used as an opportunity to read stories to children and to help them to appreciate literature. I think that this was proposed along with the use of volunteers, and I know that the Minister strongly supports the use of volunteers. So, I wondered what you thought about that particular suggestion, which is that we should be going to where children, in particular, are.
Also, does the Minister agree that it is very important that, when we have prestigious literary and artistic prizes, every effort is made to involve all members of the different communities in these sorts of events? For example, I know that, with the previous Artes Mundi prize, a great effort was made, as part of the prize, to involve asylum and immigration-seeking children in terms of their views of their experiences. I know that, in the present prize, the Prince’s Trust is involved, and that an exhibition called ‘A World of Difference’ has been produced. So, would the Minister agree that these sorts of opportunities should be seized upon to ensure that the cultural opportunities are spread everywhere?
I thank Julie Morgan very much for those points and questions. I very much agree that we must take every opportunity to promote the role that art and culture heritage can play within our schools, particularly with regard to literacy in general. I think that breakfast clubs are an important part of our education offer, and we must make sure that they are effectively used. When I mentioned earlier that we very much want to join up our response to Kay Andrews’s report with our response to Dai Smith’s report on arts in education, I think that those issues around the breakfast clubs and how they may be used can be addressed through that joining up of response. Obviously, the roadmap for our response to Kay Andrews’s report, as well as our response to Dai Smith, can address those issues.
I think that, yes, in terms of some of the big showcase events, some of the prize-giving ceremonies that occur around the arts in Wales offer very important opportunities to ensure that we reach all sectors of our communities—very much including asylum-seeker children, for example. I think that those are challenges; we have some good examples of where that has taken place and, perhaps, examples where it has not been so effective. So, we need to look at that experience and ensure that, as we take this policy agenda forward, we reach all sections of our community.
Minister, thank you for your statement. I would like to start off by saying that it is unfortunate, having read this document, that we have to come here to say some of these things—joining up what is happening at grass-roots level, having indicators for the performance of local government and promoting Communities First to undertake these activities. I would have thought that, as Assembly Members, we should expect these things to be happening already. If they are not happening, why are they not happening?
We have had years of devolution now, so we need to ensure that the people working in this sector are already performing to the standard that this report indicates. If they are not, why are they not? If they are not, is there are role for an Assembly committee, or the auditor general, to look at this matter, because it is a cause of concern that we have to discuss this at this point?
I apologise for my cynicism, but I am cynical because I want to know what has happened to Dai Smith’s report. We are constantly making reference to this, but what is actually happening in terms of implementing that report? I am entirely aware that Professor Graham Donaldson, who is looking at the curriculum, is going to be looking at the Dai Smith report, but how will that feed in to what is happening now in terms of the Government’s agenda—not in the autumn, not yesterday, but tomorrow—to ensure that this agenda is going to be prioritised once and for all?
Again, on a cynical note, there are many positive thing said here, but we have to look at it in the context of the fact that theatre in education, for example, was cut two years ago; so, it is great to say that education needs to be part of this agenda, but it was part of this agenda, only to see its funds cut in our local communities. It was not just me who was expressing regret about that at the time; we have to start again, therefore, in our schools in order to encourage community theatres to go into schools in a different way with different funding. How is this report going to change anything in that regard?
Also, it is quite ironic that we are talking about the poverty agenda and how to pull people out of poverty through culture when the Public and Commercial Services Union, this week, is going to ballot its members on whether to undertake further action because of the fact that staff within Museum Wales, who are supportive of the world of culture, are going to see salaries that are very important to them as individuals being cut, which is their salaries for weekends and bank holidays, because of the fact that they are making cuts in this sector. How are we to have a system in place to eradicate poverty in our society when the staff who are delivering the services are facing more poverty? The Welsh Government must at least have some sort of view on the fact that people are going to be suffering in this sector.
The same point is true in terms of the fact that we want to encourage more people in the heritage sector, which receives funding from Government, to go into the education system to provide more skills to teachers so that they can deliver what is important to them. How can we afford to achieve that in our education system if jobs are being cut within the heritage sector and if the sector cannot afford to do what it is required to do in terms of its statutory roles at present? Of course, that is something that we would welcome, but the reality of the situation is whether it is actually possible.
The other point that I would like to make, as I have said in the past, when we have been discussing libraries, is how important libraries are for us in Wales. You want to issue a report in the autumn with some sort of plan for the future, but libraries are closing now, so why are we always having to wait for some sort of strategy that will have some sort of wow factor, which will appear from nowhere, while local libraries are closing now and communities will have to pay to restore these libraries? How is this strategy going to help libraries as grass-roots level to remain open, given the very difficult budgetary conditions that they face? That is a point that many people are raising with me when I speak to them.
Finally, the report mentions the fact that the arts are being squeezed because of the fact that numeracy and literacy are important. Clearly, I see that numeracy is important because of my financial literacy Bill, but is there not a way to ensure that the arts are part of that, rather than being seen as some sort of enemy to the development of numeracy and literacy in our schools? Is that not the best way for young children? I was a member of an orchestra at school, where I learned to play an instrument and to read music, and using maths is an integral part of that. So, the arts are very important and a very convenient way of facilitating that development in our society.
I apologise for being negative, but I think that we have been waiting a very long time for action, and there has been statement after statement without any clear road map up until now, and, rather, we must wait until the autumn for that happen.
I do think that Bethan Jenkins is unduly negative in her remarks and, indeed, questions today on this report. The report itself, for example, is quite clear that there are many good examples right around Wales of good and effective practice in delivering on this agenda, but there is more that can be done and there can be more effective joining up of the key stakeholders and more of a leadership role for the Welsh Government and those major cultural institutions and other key stakeholders. Therefore, it is about building on much of the good practice that is already taking place, and the report makes that clear. Therefore, it is not as if a lot of good things are not happening in Wales at the current time, but we need to strengthen that and drive it forward with renewed energy and clarity.
As far as Dai Smith’s report is concerned, as I said earlier, it is very important that we join up in our response to Kay’s report and that of Professor Dai Smith, because they are very much complementary. We have, as a Government, already accepted all of the recommendations of Dai Smith’s report, and we will shortly set out our action plan. Obviously, I will be doing that jointly with the Minister for Education and Skills. I am sorry if the Member is impatient as due process is followed, but it is important that we go through that due process. One example that the Member mentioned was theatre in education; we have had a review of theatre in education and we have a strategic approach through the Arts Council of Wales, our key funder of organisations in Wales. That was about ensuring that there is consistency of provision right across Wales. It was not about reducing theatre in education, but about being more strategic and having greater consistency. Therefore, that is the accurate picture as far as that aspect of delivery is concerned.
Staffing matters are crucial. All organisations are keenly aware that they are only as good as the people who work for them, and that applies to National Museum Wales as well. However, it is, of course, a difficult time and the national museum, like other organisations, is having to wrestle with very difficult budgetary decisions. It is also going through major strategy development and redevelopment, for example, at St Fagans, and it has to make sure that it has the appropriate experience and skills for future delivery and that its standards are on an equal footing with standards across the public sector. Therefore, a lot of work has to be done. There has to be proper consultation. It is a matter for the national museum, but the Welsh Government has certain expectations of proper standards, and if those expectations were threatened in any way, we would take a greater role.
In terms of libraries, I have said many times that libraries are crucial deliverers for our community strategy around my responsibilities, and they will remain so. That is exactly why we have a library review taking place and which deals with the short-term challenges as well as the longer term vision. I very much look forward to making sure that that library review delivers for us. There are challenges and difficult decisions being made by local authorities, as well as by Welsh Government. However, we have examples of how those challenges can be adequately met. It is about things such as co-location and new models of delivery. So, we will look to best practice in meeting those challenges.
Finally, in terms of what the Member had to say about the arts and how central they are to delivery on literacy, for example, based on her own experiences, I very much agree, and Dai Smith’s report is absolutely on that territory.
I thank the Minister for the statement. While I share the frustrations that Bethan Jenkins has just elaborated on, I also recognise that we are working in some very difficult times. The challenge that this report and the other reports need to meet is how to develop our arts and culture offering within the constraints that have been placed upon them by the financial pressures that every organisation is facing at the moment and will continue to face for a number of years to come. That is why the main challenge here is how you mainstream arts and culture into the offerings in schools and communities. Bethan Jenkins referred to the role of mathematics and how that relates to music. Schools in particular are being encouraged to mainstream mathematics into all their lessons—and literacy as well—as part of the initiative to deal with the problems that we face with literacy and numeracy. However, arts and culture need to be mainstreamed into lessons as part of that, and I look forward to the Minister responding as to how he is working with the Minister for Education and Skills in terms of delivering on that particular agenda.
Having said that, I have some questions about some of the recommendations in the Kay Andrews report, particularly on recommendation 11, which talks about using Communities First and pupil deprivation grant funds to support the development of specific programmes of activity linking communities and schools. In terms of dealing with underperformance by children on free school meals, there is a role for arts and culture in that, but I would not like to see that money being spread too thinly in terms of how it is used. In terms of the recent controversy about how pupil deprivation grant money is being used, I will be looking for an assurance from the Minister that this is part of mainstreaming arts and culture, rather than diverting funds that are available for the pupil deprivation grant, which is specifically targeted at a cohort of pupils who need that extra assistance.
I was also disappointed in the report, because it does not really address the role of new technology in terms of mainstreaming arts and culture. There is reference to ICT lessons and training sessions in public libraries, but there are some very imaginative uses of new technology already in existence in terms of increasing access to heritage and culture, and in terms of allowing people to reach and learn about initiatives that they would not otherwise have access to. The Minister in his response may need to add how we can expand on those initiatives and improve on them, in order to use new technology to widen access to culture and the arts.
In terms of the interpretation of our natural and historic heritage, Monmouth is a town where they have displays with codes where you scan your mobile phones and it provides interpretation. That could be spread much wider in terms of our natural and historical heritage, and that is not really addressed in this report. So, this is something on which I will be looking to the Minister to expand on as well.
Key performance indicators have been raised, and I am very keen to ensure that the action plan is measurable as part of that.
In terms of recommendation 27 around the regeneration of historic buildings, obviously, we are looking to the heritage Bill in terms of what proposals the Minister has on that particular issue. However, I think that the recommendation itself is on the mark in saying that we need to identify opportunities for joint action focusing on the potential role of historic buildings in sustainable development and regeneration. I think that we do not do enough in terms of making use of those buildings as part of regenerating communities. Again, I think that the Minister needs to address that particularly as part of the Bill and as part of his response to it.
I have just two more points, Deputy Presiding Officer, on cost of access and transport. Those are key issues and, again, I will be looking to the Welsh Government to respond to this report in terms of how it is working across the board with other Ministers to try to reduce costs and improve transport access to those particular heritage opportunities and arts and culture opportunities. Minister, this is a very interesting report but I really do not think that it has gone far enough in those particular areas and I think that we need to build on it as part of the action plan when you come back to us with that.
Well, I very much thank Peter Black for his general welcome and, indeed, for the constructive points he has made. It is extremely important that we work within the constraints that we are all very familiar with because I think that we all know that we are going to be operating in that context for some time to come. So, it is extremely important that we make best use of available resources and that we join up as effectively as possible. This report is very much on that territory. In that context, mainstreaming makes perfect sense. Much can be delivered for literacy and numeracy through mainstreaming, as Dai Smith and Kay make clear. So, I will be working very closely with the Minister for Education and Skills and other Welsh Government colleagues.
I take the point that the Member has made regarding resources and how they are properly used. Obviously, with the road map, I will have to work very closely with those ministerial colleagues to set out quite clearly what will take place. A big part of that will, I think, be the new technologies and all the possibilities they offer. The heritage Bill is another useful vehicle, as Peter Black identified. Finally, transport is a key issue and we will need to make sure that we effectively address those transport and cost issues in that road map and future delivery.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I want just focused questions now, please. I call Mike Hedges.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. First of all, may I welcome the statement? I support the principle that all communities should be benefiting from the great cultural strengths of Wales and, of course, I am very pleased that the Minister was able to highlight the good work being done by Communities First in Swansea. Will the Minister confirm the importance of making libraries, art galleries and museums free at the point of use?
I very much thank Mike Hedges for that contribution. Swansea is a very good example of making the sort of links we want to see happening right across Wales in taking this report forward. I was very pleased to launch the report in the maritime museum in Swansea. Yes, it is absolutely a key commitment for the Welsh Government—and, I know, for our key stakeholders—that we retain free access because it absolutely delivers on this agenda of widening participation and involvement.
I have two brief issues, Deputy Presiding Officer. Picking up on the point that Julie Morgan made, I was pleased that the report took into account equality issues alongside the wider socioeconomic dimension of poverty, because we know that people with protected characteristics are often those who live in poverty. I am keen to explore how we can ensure that those groups feel that their own contribution to the heritage and culture of Wales is considered. I will give you a particular example. I am part of an advisory group sponsoring a piece of research at Swansea University on disability and industrial society, showing how disabled people’s lives today are very much shaped by the industrial injuries and diseases in the coalfields between 1780 and 1948. That project includes a series of public events and roadshows to bring that to life. In terms of taking this forward, will you commit to keeping this important aspect in mind for all groups with protected characteristics? Finally, the report seems to lean very much towards engaging children, young people and families with culture and the arts. While this is obviously hugely important, will you explore further the specific role that culture can play in terms of tackling poverty among older people, because it seems to me that there are some clear benefits that could be reaped in terms of wellbeing, and I believe that there is also a special role for culture in tackling loneliness and dementia?
I thank Rebecca Evans for that contribution and those questions. Again, I am very happy to assure all Members that equal opportunities, equality of access, participation, interest and enjoyment will be at the forefront of our minds as we take this work forward and develop our road map. We do have some really good examples, I think, of our major cultural institutions understanding this agenda and reaching out to all sections of our community and, again, that is part of Kay Andrews’s report, but we must develop that further.
Industrial heritage is hugely important to Wales with the amazing history that we have around the industrial revolution, for example, and iconic parts of our cultural offer like the Big Pit in Blaenavon bring that to life and very much make clear the contribution that our communities made through coal mining, for example, and, indeed, the consequences that were visited upon communities as a result. So, I think, again, that that would be an important strand.
Yes, all ages have to be part of the benefits of this work, and that crucially involves older people, who have so much to offer. There are lots of interesting intergenerational projects and oral history projects that allow older people to bring their life experiences to the table with regard to this work.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
I am pleased to provide Members with an update on progress made in delivering chapter 7 of our programme for government, ‘Safer Communities for All’.
In October 2013, just halfway through this Government term, we achieved our commitment to recruit an extra 500 community support officers in Wales, achieving one of our ‘five for a fairer future’ priorities. Having met many of these CSOs, I know that they are making a real difference to the lives of people right across Wales.
I have made funding available to increase the number of homes covered by no-cold-calling zones by 10,000. I have visited residents living in these zones who have confirmed how the schemes make them feel safer in their own homes.
Wales is leading the way in tackling domestic abuse and sexual violence. Next month, I will be introducing legislation into this Assembly. We currently provide revenue funding of £4 million a year to support domestic abuse services.
Our ‘The Right to be Safe’ strategy and the 10000 Safer Lives project are both programme for government commitments. I am pleased to say that all 89 actions identified in the ‘The Right to be Safe’ strategy have progressed, with 81 completed. I will publish the annual report later this month. Eleven minimum standards have been identified in the 10000 Safer Lives project and this year, three areas have been taken forward: workplace policies, service user groups and information sharing. All key public service organisations in Wales have implemented or reviewed their workplace policies on domestic abuse, violence against women and sexual violence. The policies will help employees to access advice and services in difficult circumstances while remaining in work. I have issued good practice guidance and one-off funding to local authorities to establish effective service user groups. I am pleased that all major public sector organisations in Wales now have workplace policies in place.
Work on information sharing is being taken forward as part of the wider public service leadership group commitment to ensure that information is shared to protect vulnerable people. This work is making a real difference to victims’ lives. By March 2013, over 3,000 people considered themselves to be safer or to feel safer, and my officials are compiling the figures for last year and I will report in due course.
We have seen a number of high-profile cases of slavery in the media recently and I am proud that Wales is leading on this work. Wales is the first country in the UK to appoint an anti-slavery co-ordinator. We have also established regional anti-slavery fora to share good practice, information and intelligence, and to deliver local initiatives. These include awareness raising and training that are being delivered to public services and voluntary organisations across Wales. The anti-slavery co-ordinator’s annual report, which I published in January, set out in more detail the significant work being undertaken. In February, I launched a national tv and poster campaign to raise public awareness of slavery.
I was pleased to support the recent launch of the All Wales Criminal Justice Board’s reducing reoffending strategy. The strategy brings together the ambitions of criminal and social justice agencies to reduce crime by reducing reoffending, and provides a framework to support our programme for government commitment to improving community safety. The strategy’s clear objectives and outcome indicators in relation to improving community safety will also inform the work of local service boards. I have recently visited several prisons in Wales and England where I have seen how reducing reoffending can only be achieved by everyone working effectively together. In order to provide those who have offended with the best possible opportunities and support, all public services need to work effectively together.
The youth justice system has achieved a great deal in recent years. Between 2009-10 and 2012-13, there has been a 56% reduction in the number of first-time entrants. The number of children and young people in custody has also fallen. In March 2010, there were 121 young people from Wales in custody, and this fell to 50 by March 2013. I have witnessed at first hand on visits to young people in custody the plight and vulnerability of this group. The prevention of young people from offending White Paper consultation has just closed and we will shortly launch our joint Welsh Government and youth justice board strategy.
Our youth crime prevention fund of almost £5 million plays a pivotal role in diverting young people away from crime and anti-social behaviour. This includes projects relating to education, training, leisure, arts, sports, restorative justice, and initiatives to combat substance misuse. We have made available £3.4 million in 2014-15 for the fire and rescue services preventative activity this year. The significant reduction in the number of accidental and deliberate fires in Wales since the Welsh Government started providing dedicated community fire safety funding shows what a valuable contribution schemes such as Bernie and Phoenix, along with the 580,000 home fire safety checks undertaken between 2004 and 2014, have made in making our communities safe.
We continue to be committed to strengthening our resilience and to protecting the public during times of emergency. As we have seen this winter, the increasingly changeable weather requires us to prepare for a variety of adverse conditions in order to ensure people’s safety and minimise disruption to their lives. We have seen time and again how well our emergency services, local authorities, third sector and other responder agencies work together in responding to emergencies. However, there is no room for complacency. We continue to challenge our current ways of working and questioning what we need to do better to strengthen our delivery.
Chapter 7 also includes two areas that now sit within other ministerial portfolios. Tackling substance misuse sits with the Minister for Health and Social Services and remains a priority. We have made significant progress to reduce the harm associated with substance misuse, continuing to reduce the time people wait to access treatment, and drug-related deaths have fallen for the second successive year. However, reducing the harm associated with alcohol remains a real challenge. Many of the tools and powers needed to tackle alcohol misuse rest with the UK Government, and we will continue to advocate for the devolution of alcohol licensing and use the policy levers available to us to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Wales.
Road safety falls within the portfolio of my colleague the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport. The Minister published the ‘Road Safety Framework for Wales’ in July 2013, which sets out the Welsh Government’s strategic approach to road safety until 2020. In 2013-14, the Minister provided approximately £10 million for road safety improvements, education and enforcement. She also funded improvements to local walking and cycling routes, with £5 million under the Safe Routes in Communities programme.
The Welsh Government has made significant strides in delivering on our programme for government commitments. I will continue to progress our agenda in collaboration with the Wales police forces and local authorities to ensure that our communities become safer places for all.
Thank you, Minister, for your statement. Clearly, delivering safer communities requires us to identify what works well and hopefully agree what we need to do differently.
You refer to the funding for no-cold-calling zones. I know that has included, for example, funding for Flintshire and Wrexham Watch Association. It has highlighted the need not just to have no-cold-calling zones, which can mean as little as a sign in the window, signs on the lamppost and a local co-ordinator, but engaging with a more interactive scheme like the OWL scheme that you will be familiar with, which is constant sharing of information with members, with the latest messages and crime alerts going to all by e-mail, telephone or other mechanisms available. How, if at all, are you going to try to emphasise or influence the delivery of schemes that are more than the minimum?
In terms of tackling domestic abuse and sexual violence, you will recall in previous Assemblies that the Welsh Government strategy was gender neutral, despite calls from, among others, Welsh Women’s Aid for it to be gender specific. Of course, the proposed legislation will be gender specific, but primarily recognising the important needs of women and girls. Will this also, as with the previous call from Welsh Women’s Aid when the previous strategy was published, deliver on the need for gender-specific provision for males, particularly recognising the increased numbers of boys and young men who are reporting abuse?
You refer to high-profile cases of slavery and the appointment of the anti-slavery co-ordinator. I very much welcome the fact that you are, alongside the UK Government, adopting the term ‘slavery’ now, which loses any ambiguity that may be associated with this. How are you endeavouring to ensure greater engagement between the co-ordinator and police and crime commissioners, but also other departments such as health and education? How are you engaging with the UK Government’s forthcoming modern slavery Bill? I know that you have said something about this to committee, but we have not published our report, so I am trying not to say too much at this point. Do you recognise the need for a protocol between the two Governments, delivering clarity on the interaction between the proposed UK commissioner and the Wales commissioner?
Could you address the need for male accommodation? I think that BAWSO recognised the fact that there was no accommodation for male victims of trafficking, who represent 40% of the cases, and there is a need for qualified counsellors for all the victims. Finally, could you address the delivery of comprehensive coverage across Wales, where currently issues such as information sharing are different in different local authority areas?
You refer to the All Wales Criminal Justice Board’s reducing reoffending strategy. Do you agree that that should be delivered on the principle of co-production, that is, embracing particularly independent and third sector providers in the design and delivery of strategy? Again, I cite, for example, Flintshire and Wrexham Watch Association, which said that involving third sector organisations as a valued community safety partner was key, working with the community safety partnerships to help deliver strategic plans, community safety, and engaging ordinary citizens who live and work in local areas in helping to keep their communities safe.
In terms of youth justice, you recognise—and I welcome this—the reduction in the number of first-time entrants. The youth justice board told me that it was mostly because of targeted interventions by education, social services and work between the youth offending teams and the police to use diversion as an alternative. It pointed out that north Wales was lagging behind in restorative justice, although it was working with Gwynedd and Ynys Môn. How are you endeavouring to fill in the gaps that exist in that respect? Also, I do not think that your report referred to the worrying nonetheless increase in youth reoffending rates, both in terms of how many young people have reoffended and how the frequency of offending by that group is evident. The Youth Justice Board highlights an analysis of a deterioration in performance due to a smaller group of young people with entrenched patterns of offending behaviour linked to complex needs.
Finally, in this context, will you report back to this Assembly on the programmes that it indicates that the Welsh Government is funding? For example, in recognition of high levels of complex need among the most troublesome young people in the youth justice system, there is a three-year project using Welsh Government funding to develop a case-management approach. Also, the Welsh Government is funding work with the north Wales youth offending teams to secure a third sector organisation to develop a regionalised approach to resettlement from young offender institutes such as Hindley and other relevant establishments.
Moving on to the final page of your report and fire and rescue services, which you referred to, and preventative activity, clearly, the falls in the incidence of fire deaths and of fire generally is encouraging. However, as you will be aware, there has been a spate recently. In March, both south Wales and mid and west Wales reported between them hundreds of arson attacks, with grass fires and wild fires being caused by arson. More locally, in Flintshire in recent weeks, we have seen an arson attack on Greenfield Road in Holywell and another arson attack in Connah’s Quay. So, in terms of targeted interventions, how do you feel you can develop the prevention programme with partners to target interventions at the persons or groups who still feel that arson is something they feel like carrying out, regardless of the consequences for victims and property?
Finally, you refer to tackling substance misuse. It is no longer directly in your brief, but nonetheless in your report. A few years ago, we had two reports commissioned by the Welsh Government into tier 4 provision, which is residential detoxification and rehabilitation. Those independent reports showed, for example, people committing crimes to get into the criminal justice system in order to access detox and rehab in a residential form and many other shocking statistics. A report was then published and the Assembly was made aware of it, with an all-Wales option, but we do not appear to have heard very much about that since and at least one of the proposed institutions has gone bust and ceased to operate. Could you therefore update us on tier 4 provision in particular?
Finally, on the cessation of the all-Wales peer mentoring service for substance misuse—as you know, this ended at the end of March—I am advised that that centred on queries concerning Welsh Government and Welsh European Funding Office audit of the scheme. That raises serious questions. I hope that you will confirm that the Welsh Government is progressing that with its auditors and possibly with the Wales Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee.
Thank you, Mark Isherwood, for those questions. In relation to no-cold-calling zones, as I mentioned, I have visited the Flintshire one and it is very clear to see that people feel much safer in their homes with that sticker on their property. However, I think we need to look at sharing best practice; you mentioned the OWL scheme, which I am well aware of. It is really important that associations such as the Flintshire and Wrexham Watch Association and all local authorities learn from one another. One of the concerns I had about no-cold-calling zones was that I made a substantial amount of funding available to local authorities to have no-cold-calling zones in their area, but there was not the take-up that I had hoped for. Clearly, there are barriers to local authorities applying for that funding, particularly ones that do not have any zones, and I was particularly concerned about that. I think that the issue that they have to have a survey before they can apply is a barrier and that is something I have taken up with the UK Government.
You asked several questions regarding ending violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. Certainly, we do have services for male victims—you will be aware of the Dyn project—but we know that, predominantly, it is women who are affected. We are doing all we can to ensure that our services are there for these vulnerable people and people who need the services.
I mentioned in my statement workplace policies. That is an area where I am very pleased to see so much work being undertaken in our public sector. I went to the launch of the Cardiff and Vale University Local Health Board workplace policy, and, that morning, someone had come up at the launch and disclosed that they were a victim of domestic abuse. They were then able to point that woman in the right direction for the most appropriate services. So, it is really important that those workplace policies are in place.
In relation to slavery and anti-slavery, I really do think that Wales is leading the way. Last Thursday, I attended the inter-departmental ministerial group meeting at the Home Office, where I can honestly say that I think that the UK Government is now catching up with us. As you are aware, it hopes to introduce the modern slavery Bill before the summer recess. I thought that it was important to adopt the same language. I think that it is really important that ‘slavery’ is the word used. That is absolutely what it is. So, we have moved from ‘human trafficking’ to ‘slavery’. It is important that we are working very closely together, which we are. Officials are certainly doing that, as am I, and my Northern Ireland counterpart was there. The Scottish Minister was unable to attend. However, I think that it is very important that we do all work together. It is the most horrendous crime and I think that the awareness that has now been raised around it is really important, so that people know that slavery is going on in Wales—in our towns, cities and communities. You mentioned male victims of slavery. I think that what is really important, as we take this work forward, is that we have all services available to male and female victims. That is something that we are working on at the moment.
In relation to reducing reoffending, I think that we have done some very good work in this area. I very much welcome the All Wales Criminal Justice Board’s reducing reoffending strategy. I am looking forward to working with the new director of the National Offender Management Service to progress matters. You are quite right about reoffending. We have seen a massive, significant drop in the number of first-time entrants, but what you are then left with is a group of people who have very complex needs. Many of them are there because they have reoffended. You mentioned Hindley. I visited Hindley in Wigan, where north Wales offenders go. Certainly, talking to the young men, you could see that we need to direct our services to preventing the reoffending, because some of them have such complex needs that they need that extra support.
In relation to fire and rescue authorities, I visited Maesteg fire station during the Easter recess, and they told me there that the number of deliberate fires and grass fires in the first quarter of this year, compared with last year, had dropped significantly. However, they had had a very difficult Easter period, when they had seen a significant number of grass fires. It is really important that we carry on projects such as Bernie and Phoenix, which deal with young people who are either on the cusp of offending or who have committed arson in order to make them realise the consequences of their actions. Certainly, that is something that the fire and rescue authorities do.
May I very much welcome this statement, Minister? There are very many positive and constructive things included in the report. Generally, it is very good to see that the level of crime in Wales is falling, and that the level of anti-social behaviour is also falling. There is very good news about the youth justice system in terms of the number committing crimes and the number who reoffend, and it is clear that a great deal of progress has been made in those areas. Of course, alongside that, Minister, the perception of the public of what is happening is quite different. There is a general perception among the public that crime and anti-social behaviour is on the increase in Wales, and that is particularly true among the most vulnerable groups, particularly older people in our communities, who feel that there are constant threats around them. What can you do to allay the fears of these people and ensure that they feel more comfortable in the situations that they face?
You refer to the emergency services. Of course, these carry out a very important role in our society. Do you think that it is important that all elements of the emergency services—the fire and rescue service, the police and the ambulance service—should work together? One way of doing that is to ensure that the control rooms work together and, if it is possible within geographical locations, that those control rooms are brought together. Do you agree that that is important, rather than having various services joining together and our seeing control rooms being centralised and dealing with a much larger geographical area but dealing with one element of the service alone?
May I also refer to the good news regarding community support officers? That is certainly good news. It is good to see that their work is already bearing fruit. Of course, alongside that, we are going to see, over the comprehensive spending review period, a reduction of 11% in the number of police officers in Wales and England. Therefore, alongside what you have done as the Welsh Government, you will face a challenge in terms of the police system.
I am very pleased to see you refer, within policing and the youth justice system, to the need for further devolution. Do you, Minister, predict a situation where the Welsh Government will control policing in Wales—that is, the operational element of policing? I accept that there are elements, in terms of international crime and anti-terrorism systems, where the link with the situation that is being managed from London is important. However, as regards day-to-day policing in Wales, do you foresee a situation where control over that will come to the Welsh Government, so that we can further progress in relation to those elements?
However, I do very much welcome the progress that there has been in relation to your programmes and the projects that you have been involved with in this area.
Diolch, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, and thank you for your welcome for the statement. We all know that perception is everything in politics. I think that you are absolutely right—sometimes, when you talk to members of the public, their perception is that anti-social behaviour is on the increase.
Certainly, we have seen a reduction in crime statistics, and I think that what is very important is that community support officers, for instance, are out there working in our communities. I think that that is why the 500 additional CSOs are so important, because they are out there, walking the streets, visiting schools and visiting older people’s groups, for instance, talking about their work and listening to the concerns that people have around such things as anti-social behaviour.
Just last Wednesday, I was in Pontypridd, where I went out on the beat with British Transport Police CSOs, because, of course, we fund additional CSOs for the British Transport Police. We came down on the train from Pontypridd, where, again, the CSOs were walking around the carriages and talking—their presence was there. I was speaking to a lady who said that she had not wanted to travel on trains before, but now that she sees the CSOs she feels assured of their protection and she feels much safer travelling on public transport.
When we got off the train, I also attended a football tournament that the CSOs run with year 8 and 9 pupils, I would say, about railway safety. They played five-a-side football and then went in to watch a video about the dangers of playing on railways, for themselves, but also the domino effect that would have should anything happen while they were doing that. So, again, it is about educating people about the dangers of that and educating and helping vulnerable groups about the CSO work. You mentioned the 11% reduction in the number of police officers due to UK Government cuts, and it is very important that we recognise that those 500 CSOs are additional. Were it not for Welsh Government funding, those 500 CSOs would not be there.
I am not really into predictions, but you know about the Welsh Government’s support for the devolution of policing, and certainly that is something that we will be taking forward.
I was very pleased as well, Minister, to get your statement. I have about four questions, I think, after Mark Isherwood’s 40, so I will not be as long. One of the first things that I want to ask you about relates to the police community support officers. As you have said, they do a tremendous job in the community. I have also spent a day with them. My question is this: is their funding extended until 2016? Can you confirm whether that is true or not?
This month is Scams Awareness Month. We have talked about no-cold calling zones across different areas of Wales, but some statistics I saw showed that some authorities had very few no-cold calling zones, and I wonder what authority you have to make sure that these exist across more areas of Wales than at present.
The Labour-led Carmarthenshire County Council, in one area that is full of people who are concerned about anti-social behaviour, has set up a selective licensing scheme for the properties it owns. That has worked well in that particular area. Obviously, we will have a housing Bill with the licensing and accreditation of private landlords, so I wondered whether we could go along the same route. In that particular area of Llanelli, incidences of anti-social behaviour have lessened. However, it had to go through legal problems and it has been done just in one area of Llanelli. I was in a public meeting last Friday night in Llanelli, in another area, and the residents there were asking me whether they could have the same kind of scheme in their area. Therefore, it is a matter of going back to Carmarthenshire with that one.
Carmarthenshire has also put a ban on drinking in certain places in Llanelli, particularly in the town centre. That was instigated 12 months ago, and has also reduced anti-social behaviour. So, Minister, do you think that we could get more local authorities to adopt such practices, because it does diminish anti-social behaviour in those particular areas?
Thank you, Keith Davies, for those questions. I am very pleased that you have spent a day with CSOs; it is very beneficial for us to do that. I can assure you that it is funded until 2016, until the end of this term. That is a question that I have been asked a lot by CSOs since I have held this portfolio. We have spent £25 million to date and we have budgeted a further £17 million this year.
You mentioned Scams Awareness Month, and you are quite right to do so. As I believe I mentioned in my answer to Mark Isherwood, I made funding available because I was concerned about why some local authorities were not taking up no-cold call zones. So, I took away the barrier of funding by providing it, but still only 12 local authorities, I think, applied. There were some local authorities where there were no zones at all that did not apply. I delved into this, and I found that one of the barriers was that they had to have a consultation process before they could go ahead with it. I wrote to the Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs in the UK Government—at the time, the Minister was Jenny Willott—and she said that, although she understood my desire to speed up the process for local authorities, she believed that the consultation process is an important part of a local authority fulfilling its legal basis for setting up such zones. She felt that, if they did not consult properly, they could be exposed to judicial review. However, I really do believe that it is a barrier and it is something that we need to work on with local authorities to try to overcome.
You mentioned the scheme in Carmarthenshire and the ban on alcohol in public places. From reading about areas that have this ban, I am aware that there is a reduction in anti-social behaviour. You will have heard me say many times in the Chamber that I believe in best practice being shared, and that is certainly something that we could do.
I thank the Minister for the statement and for the outline of the progress made on this particular part of the programme for government. My particular interest in this field is in restorative justice, and I was wondering whether the Minister could outline how that is being taken forward throughout Wales. I know that a number of youth offending teams are looking at it, but unfortunately they are not always being funded to do that. It is also taking place in schools. One of the schools that I am a governor of is particularly keen on introducing restorative justice. Could the Minister outline what her policies and actions are towards trying to advance that throughout Wales?
Minister, in terms of a number of other issues, a review of the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence services in Wales was due to report in the autumn of last year. I understand that that has still not reported, and that you extended the contract in February. When is that due to report, and when will we see the outcome of that particular review?
Also, last year, the funding responsibility for the delivery of the drug intervention programme moved from the Welsh Government to police and crime commissioners, which makes it very difficult to scrutinise the success of that programme. Could you outline whether you are working with the police and crime commissioners on that, and what actions we can scrutinise in terms of how successful that particular programme is?
Finally, Minister, I also have concerns about the merger of the control rooms of Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service with the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service at South Wales Police, and the impact that that will have on the delivery of that service, particularly in terms of the Welsh language but also because it will be covering such a vast area and the level of backup needed for that service if all the lines are full, for example. In the past, the services relied on each other to support where there was a problem. That backup is not necessarily going to be there now, and there is concern among employees of those particular services about how this will be taken forward. The Welsh Government has given the services £3 million, I think, from the invest-to-save fund to bring about that transformation. Could you outline some justification for that? The letter that you wrote to me was fairly devoid of any justification, so anything that you could give me today would be very helpful.
Thank you. To answer your questions about control rooms—and I am sorry that I did not answer Rhodri Glyn Thomas’s question about control rooms—I think that control rooms where there are more than one emergency service are absolutely crucial to providing the response that we want to see. I visited the north Wales one where we have the fire service and the police together. There was a fire in Bangor, and because they were working together, they knew exactly how many fire engines to send out. So, it is absolutely crucial that we have that joint working, and it is something that I am encouraging.
I know of the concerns about the merger of Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service and South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, and I thought that I had answered your questions in my response to you. However, I will go back and if there is anything further that I can add, I will write to you again.
In relation to restorative justice, the Welsh Government’s youth crime prevention fund supports projects aimed at diverting young people away from crime and anti-social behaviour. I have visited several such projects and just last week, Lord Tom McNally, the new chair of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales, visited Triage based here in Cardiff, which focuses on restorative justice. It is offered at the point of the first arrest of a minor offence, and it is delivered by Media Academy Cardiff, which you may be aware is a voluntary sector organisation in partnership with South Wales Police. So, we have such schemes. We have Swansea Bureau, which you are probably aware of, which provides young people with an opportunity to resolve their offending behaviour, and to learn from the potential and actual damage without receiving a criminal record, because once they are in the system, it is much harder to work with them. If they have a criminal record, they blight their educational chances and their career prospects, so it is really important that we do all we can to stop that offending from happening in the first place.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you very much, Minister.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Before I move on to the last item, I sense that some Members are quite irritated by the length of some contributions. From the chair, I share that irritation, because punchier questions and answers are much more effective and lead to better scrutiny. However, all parties in the Chamber at some point offend, and some of the replies that Ministers give can be quite long as well. However, we need to sharpen our act up a little bit. Otherwise, we might have to mention some of the main culprits. I am not looking at anyone in particular at the moment.
As a Government, we are committed to embedding an entrepreneurial culture in Wales. It is one of our programme for government commitments and we have taken a number of steps in pursuit of this goal, ranging from stimulating entrepreneurial attitudes, embedding entrepreneurship in education and triggering and supporting start-up and new business, through to supporting indigenous and new businesses to grow. Entrepreneurs are essential for developing a strong economy, building companies and helping to spread prosperity and create jobs. Wales has a strong track record of encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation and today I would like to provide an update to Members on some of the actions that we have taken in this area and progress made.
In January, I established the entrepreneurship panel for Wales to provide us with guidance and expertise on the development and delivery of the entrepreneurship agenda in Wales. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs have been appointed to the panel, including James Taylor of SuperStars, Hayley Parsons, the founder and CEO of GoCompare, and self-made multi-millionaire Kevin Green. Together with academics, Professor Paul Hannon and Sue Poole, the panel’s expertise and knowledge will be invaluable in providing advice on shaping strategy and policy making, and they will monitor the progress of how we deliver our entrepreneurship programmes, including the youth entrepreneurship strategy action plan. Our youth entrepreneurship strategy is recognised as an example of good practice across the European Union. The strategy is credited with changing attitudes among young people and its success has been highlighted in a number of key independent surveys. Some of the initiatives that have helped deliver the aims of the strategy include the national primary school enterprise competition, the Big Ideas Wales role model programme, the Big Ideas Wales challenge and the regional further and higher education hubs. The final of the first national primary school enterprise competition, which was launched in May last year to nurture the spirit of enterprise in primary schools and encourage support from the business community, was held in the Senedd on 25 March. I was very impressed with the quality of the entries and was encouraged to see the enterprise skills being demonstrated by the schools that participated.
We also continue to motivate and inspire young people across Wales with more than 365 entrepreneurs involved in the Big Ideas Wales role model programme. More than 2,500 presentations were held in schools and there were more than 800 enterprise events in further education and higher education institutions during the last year to inspire young people. The Big Ideas Wales challenge was launched in October 2013 with the aim of identifying the next generation of entrepreneurs in Wales. Following auditions held across Wales, 42 young people were invited to take part in a three-day boot camp in January 2014. James Taylor is the ambassador for the challenge. Working in partnership with colleges and universities in Wales, we have established six regional further and higher education entrepreneurship hubs to encourage collaboration and interlinking with wider economic developments. Their focus is to increase aspirations and awareness of entrepreneurship, deliver practical entrepreneurship experiences to young people and prepare them for start-up through signposting them to start-up support services. In addition to this, over the past 12 months, we have facilitated five evening entrepreneur networking events throughout Wales in Wrexham, Bangor, Swansea, Newport and Aberystwyth. Each event saw a key note speaker and a panel of high profile entrepreneurs engaged in debate with over 200 local entrepreneurs. We will be following this with a large-scale entrepreneurs Wales conference to be held in November.
As part of supporting entrepreneurs, new starts and existing businesses in Wales, it is important that we have an effective access gateway to appropriate support. Through our Business Wales service, we now offer a single point of entry to information, guidance and support through a dedicated website, helpline and one-stop shop. The Business Wales website has introduced a new business finance zone to offer specialised advice and information to help people understand funding options, how to choose the most appropriate type of funding and how to apply for funding, as well as details of the many different financial support schemes on the market. During the past year the helpline has dealt with 33,000 enquires and the website has registered more than 400,000 sessions. Since its launch in January last year, the Business Wales one-stop shop service has provided direct advice to 8,150 small and medium-sized enterprises, resulting in the creation of 1,008 jobs and the safeguarding of 1,617 jobs. The service has also provided an information and signposting service to 21,153 businesses.
Last October, I announced the launch of the start-up loans in Wales. The introduction of this facility has been welcomed and, to date, 141 Wales-based start-ups have benefited from loans totalling over £1 million.
Also key to encouraging entrepreneurship is our support to SMEs. Our various funding programmes, such as the microbusiness loan fund, are helping businesses to access funding to help them grow and thrive. The £6 million microbusiness loan provides scope to support at least 300 businesses with loans of between £1,000 and £20,000. To date, the fund has supported 83 businesses, investing £1.8 million directly and attracting £2 million of further private sector funds. The fund has created and safeguarded 509 jobs to date.
Recognising the importance of ensuring that Welsh SMEs invest, I also launched in November 2013 the Business Wales SME small capital investment grant, a time-specific £1.5 million fund. This fund has proved to be successful and has supported 141 SMEs, with a projected outcome of 426 jobs created and 345 jobs safeguarded.
Last Wednesday, I announced the new £7.5 million fund aimed at technology start-ups, university spin-outs and intellectual property-rich companies to help them commercialise their innovative products and technologies and bring them to the market. This will address the current shortage of early stage capital identified by the Innovation Wales strategy.
The Welsh Government is committed to encouraging entrepreneurship, supporting business starts-ups and SMEs, which have the potential to play a very important role in job creation and growth. We will continue to build on the good progress that we have made on delivering this agenda, ensuring that we create an environment and conditions in Wales for businesses to prosper and grow.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call William Graham.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. The Welsh Conservatives broadly welcome the initiatives detailed in the statement. I think that they follow and mirror announcements made by the United Kingdom Government, particularly those on the start-up loans and the new enterprise allowance. The United Kingdom Government’s new enterprise allowance offers expert business mentoring and financial support for new businesses, including those created by people on benefits. I ask the Minister, perhaps, to consider whether that could be further introduced into Wales.
This statement provides a good foundation upon which to build. We hope to facilitate the right conditions to support sustained growth in entrepreneurship. I would ask the Minister whether she could kindly report back, in particular on some of those welcome initiatives, particularly that for the entrepreneurship panel in Wales and the youth entrepreneurship strategy. Clearly, we value the established business and academic role models and the contribution that they make for inspiring young people in business creation. The Welsh Conservatives particularly endorse your view—and, hopefully, more enthusiastically—that growth in entrepreneurship is vital for supporting indigenous business and encouraging business growth. They are also essential for encouraging social mobility and creating the wealth to sustain public services.
Minister, your statement has echoes of the parable of the sower and I hope that the seed will bear true fruition.
I thank William Graham for his comments. I think that it is particularly important that, across the parties, we understand the needs and the requirements in terms of entrepreneurs and the role of the state in encouraging entrepreneurship. I very much hope to report back in due course about further work on the youth strategy because I think that it is really the future for us in the development of the work that we do in schools, even in primary schools, as well as what we do in further education and higher education, and how we help those individuals to make their dreams come true. It is also very important that we recognise how this provides genuine growth within the economy in terms of indigenous businesses developing, and them taking the opportunities then to take on more staff and develop further. It is all about creating wealth—that we have wealth in the economy. If you have wealthy people who can afford to pay their taxes, we have the virtuous circle.
You make a good point about encouraging people on benefits and whether there is something that they want to do in entrepreneurship. I will certainly discuss that with my ministerial colleagues and I will bring the matter back to the Chamber.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. Thank you, Minister, for the statement. Business entrepreneurship, of course, is crucial to the economy because standing still is not an option for the Welsh economy. Now, of course, is the time to ensure that the businesses that we have develop, and also that the seed is planted among the entrepreneurs of the future. I welcome, in principle, the various schemes that the Minister has mentioned. In terms of working with school pupils, she talked about the primary school enterprise competition, about Big Ideas Wales, and about a number of other initiatives in the private sector. One thing that was missing from the statement was how the Government is going to push forward the agenda of teaching entrepreneurship in schools. I would like to hear more about the commitment to the development of entrepreneurship within the curriculum.
In moving to further and higher education, Big Ideas Wales provides a bridge into that sector also. We heard talk of the regional entrepreneurship hubs. There is evidence that the entrepreneurial spirit does exist within higher education institutions in Wales but that it is still not transferring and becoming real long-term business success in the way that we wish to see it happening. I would be grateful if the Minister would tell us a little about how to turn ideas that are based in education, in higher education research and so on, into long-term successful businesses here in Wales.
Of course, we need to not only encourage new enterprises, but encourage our SMEs to grow. The Minister mentioned a number of different funding sources, and although she did highlight simultaneously the work of Business Wales, we must continue to do more to ensure that the range of support available is not overly complex and that the idea of a one-stop shop is something that is developed more and more. The aim is to create more and better jobs and more wealth in the economy, and we in Plaid Cymru have made a number of proposals as to how we could achieve that, including our idea about a new public bank to develop businesses. That Plaid Cymru model for the bank would also include a mentoring service, export services and financial services and so on. That is, these ideas are ones that have been developed in detail, and this is such a crucially important element of encouraging entrepreneurship. We need to take action now and I would appreciate your comments—although we welcome the fact that the Government has accepted our idea in principle now—on how this bank could provide an important boost to entrepreneurship in Wales, as part of the what you have described as the need to transform the entrepreneurship culture in Wales.
Thank you very much for your comments and the way in which you have broadly welcomed some of the strategy contained in my statement.
I think that it is important—I know that the Minister for education agrees with me—that we push forward the agenda in schools in terms of entrepreneurship, particularly within HE and FE, and that we work closely together to make sure that all of the initiatives that we take fit in well with the spirit of the curriculum and its development. You do need maths and you need good skills in terms of language. Everything that we are delivering in terms of the curriculum actually helps the entrepreneur to come forward.
May I also say that it is particularly important that we look at the point that you made about how we sometimes transfer skills from universities and what is there into very good businesses? I think that this is an issue that we have looked at in terms of the innovation strategy. It is important to recognise that we have to look at the open innovation, particularly in this area—we are doing work in that area. In terms of business innovation programmes, we have started to look at how we can deal with issues in terms of developing a business out of them. If we look at the work that the knowledge transfer partnerships has done, which has been funded by the technology strategy board along with 12 other public sector partners, it has certainly done that with the transfer of knowledge and ideas between Welsh businesses and academic institutions. We have also looked at programmes looking at the individual as being a partner and the university institution and the idea and how that then becomes a business in terms of taking on people and producing a particular product. However, I still think that there is more to learn in that area.
In terms of Business Wales, you are correct—I do not want an overly complex system of business advice. However, everywhere I go, people ask me whether Business Wales can provide more advice on little bits of the system and whether it can do more about co-ops and mutuals and these various areas. It is very important that we have clear lines in terms of what advice can be given.
In terms of what the banks are doing and where we are moving, I am obviously doing further work on establishing what we can do further in terms of banks in Wales. Commercial banks have a role to play in this as well, in terms of the fact that they are able to mentor and assist, and I will be reporting back in due course in more detail on the banking issues, Deputy Presiding Officer.
Thank you, Minister, for your very comprehensive statement. It is good to know that there is so much activity going on, and I was particularly pleased with the references to young people.
Minister, I regularly speak to a range of businesses and entrepreneurs in my constituency, and they tell me, in what has become quite a familiar story, that they have a great idea or product, they go to the Welsh Government, they go, perhaps, through Sell2Wales, but they still sometimes have difficulty accessing Welsh markets. Rather, they receive sometimes the bulk of their business from England and Scotland. Obviously, this success is to be welcomed, but their experience indicates that some work still needs to be done to enable Welsh businesses, particularly when they have a new idea, to access the Welsh market. I know that it is not down to Welsh Government to provide these markets for them, but, Minister, what advice do you think you could give to these businesses? We know the reasons why it is good when businesses can access local markets, so I would be keen to know more generally what work is being done around Welsh businesses selling to Wales, and is the Welsh Government gathering data regarding this?
You raise this point at a very interesting moment. I had the opportunity a few weeks ago, together with Janice Gregory, of visiting a very interesting company in her constituency, and one of the issues that it illustrated to me was how they get into certain markets in Wales when they are already in markets outside Wales. Obviously, we have the Sell2Wales website, which I think is very helpful in terms of businesses winning contracts in the public sector and how they deal with these issues. The organisations that they deal with are the Welsh Government, local authorities, NHS bodies and colleges and universities. This was a market area that people wanted to look at. I have asked my officials what further work we can undertake in this area because, sometimes, individuals have a good idea, they can get their manufacturing sorted out but the one place that they cannot seem to sell in is their immediate locality in Wales, yet they can export abroad. So, this is an issue that we are currently shining further light on, I can assure the Member.
Thank you, Minister, for your statement today.
I agree that we need to create this culture of entrepreneurialism in Wales if we are going to build in the future the kind of Wales we want to see. There are lots of policy interventions discussed in your statement today, Minister, which I welcome. However, I would be interested in how these fit together. We have the youth entrepreneurship strategy, but the question in my mind is: what is the strategic context for people of other ages who are interested in starting businesses, and in growing businesses from one stage of development to another? Can you confirm whether this is going to be an output for the entrepreneurship panel for Wales?
Looking at some of the individual interventions that are mentioned, Big Ideas Wales has an enormously important role to play in terms of driving youth entrepreneurialism. In terms of things such as the Big Ideas Wales challenge, how are you monitoring the outcomes from the boot camp that took place earlier this year? Are those young people getting ongoing support to develop a business plan and a business case to go for a start-up loan? Are those things being linked together as interventions? How will you be monitoring how those young people are progressing over the years and months, given that, having being through an audition process or having applied, they are clearly some of the most creative and most able entrepreneurs and would have a good chance of success if they are provided with the appropriate support?
I also very much agree that in order to inspire culture change, we have to celebrate the culture that we want to instil. Things like events and conferences can be helpful in doing that. However, can you confirm for us how participants in those workshops around Wales were targeted? Who are those entrepreneurs, and what are the measured outcomes from these events? What were you hoping to achieve? Were you hoping to create networks for entrepreneurs? Were those aims successful?
I very much welcomed the launch of the start-up loans scheme in Wales, as the Minister will know, and I very much welcome what I think is a very important element, which is providing support alongside funding hand in hand, so that you maximise the opportunity for that funding to be successful by making sure that the individuals do not develop ideas that are not likely to get success. People going through the start-up loan process are often also mentored so that they can get their business ideas ready to the point where they can pitch for funding, which is perhaps unusual in terms of a lot of other different funding schemes.
While that is very important with start-up businesses, I would suggest that it is also very important for businesses as they move from one stage of their progression to another. I am wondering if the Minister will consider looking at that kind of pairing approach also for growing businesses, because, obviously, if we can help them to plan and manage expansion, we are reducing the risk that they will overstretch themselves and cause themselves a business failure at a time when they perhaps had the greatest opportunity to grow.
Finally, I was very interested in the fund for technology start-ups and university spin-outs. Clearly, there are lots of very complicated issues surrounding intellectual property and how that works in practice. I am wondering if you can just confirm for us what kind of support and advice networks those kinds of start-ups are likely to be in, because there is already activity in the universities and there are a number of other places where these high-technology start-up businesses can already go for this kind of advice. I am wondering whether you will be providing additional, independent advice on that or whether that is something that you see as a partnership approach.
I am glad that you are not asking me to go into the details of intellectual property, because this is one of the most difficult areas that entrepreneurs and others actually face in terms of establishing their business. Also, it is the area where they sometimes get absolutely ripped off if they do not do things properly when they are young and new to the field. We very much see this as an area of partnership in developing our programme and events, because it is important that as much support as possible is available when you are dealing with such issues as intellectual property rights.
I am very much taken by the approach that you are suggesting about the progression from the start-up, when it is established, to the next phase. Obviously, there are examples of where there are partnerships where the people who helped them in the first place are still there mentoring them. I am more than happy to look more directly at what assistance we can give to some of those partnerships and those pairing arrangements, because I think that it is useful that you have somebody who can take you through all the stages of your business and whom you have confidence in, because they were there from an early stage. More importantly, you can see them, perhaps, as a role model in how they have developed their business. So, that is certainly an area that I would be more than happy to look at.
In terms of the youth entrepreneurship strategy, we have focused, as you know, on young people, because we have tried to look at how we can deliver young people into feeling that entrepreneurship is of value. I have often felt, since I have been Minister, that people do not understand the value of entrepreneurship and that it is a word that people are quite frightened of in society. What does it mean to be an entrepreneur? To be an entrepreneur does not mean that you have to be like Richard Branson. It means that you can be quite successful in managing a company of 10 people with new ideas and products. You can be quite successful as an individual. It is a state of mind, and it is a state of mind that we have got to promote. Therefore, in terms of the Big Ideas Wales role model programme, that is what it is there for and that is why we try to do those particular presentations.
Also, in very real terms, I think that it is very important that we look at what we are able to give across the piece in conjunction with others, because we are not just the experts in the field. I feel that we in Government have a role to fulfil, almost like filling the gaps, but if we can do more in partnerships, I will have fewer gaps to fill.
Also, I think that mentors across the piece are very important and in terms of technology start-ups, I would be more than happy to give some further information on how, particularly, that scheme will be utilised. However, I think that it is important that we recognise that this has been a progressive approach, starting from the young and going all the way through. We also have to recognise that entrepreneurship is not just for somebody under the age of 25; it can be for a much wider generational group, and perhaps that is an area that I need to look at further in terms of how I encourage people, in their second careers, to undertake the entrepreneurship that they did not do in their first life, when they move to their second business life, and that the resources are there. I will be happy, Deputy Presiding Officer, to update either here or in the enterprise committee in due course on this project.
I have three shortish and punchy questions for the Minister, covering some of the areas relating to youth entrepreneurship. First, Minister, you say that the youth entrepreneurship strategy—YES, which was mentioned by Eluned Parrott—is recognised as an example of good practice across the European Union and is credited with changing attitudes among young people. I agree with you as far as that goes, but I am sure that you will agree that that does not quite tell the whole story. If I may ask you, first: what have you done to fulfil the key recommendation of the Enterprise and Business Committee report from November 2013 that you should work to improve the,
‘data on youth entrepreneurship and carry out rigorous monitoring and evaluation of progress achieved and comparison with other countries’?
I stress that part of the recommendation is regarding other countries. It is very difficult otherwise to look at how we are doing compared with Europe if those data are not there.
Secondly, what is the Welsh Government doing to reassure organisations such as the FSB, which has cited inconsistencies and contradictions in how progress is being presented and, more importantly, what is actually being measured in the first place? The FSB has said that sometimes we are in danger of,
‘measuring what is easy to measure’,
not what actually matters. You might be doing very well in the measures that you have chosen, but are they relevant to young people and the progress that they are making in becoming entrepreneurs?
Thirdly and finally, the Deputy Minister gave evidence to the Enterprise and Business Committee that the Welsh Government was going to look at a mechanism to track the progress of young people following their initial introduction to entrepreneurship at a young age. What is being done in this regard? Entrepreneurial activity by 18 to 25-year-olds may be doing very well, but what is happening beyond that to make sure that people carry on in that entrepreneurial spirit, whether or not they are running their own businesses, or whether that may be in any other aspect of life?
It is important to recognise that sometimes we have entrepreneurs within various sectors who are not running their own business, but they have that entrepreneurial spirit that helps the company or organisation that they might be working for. In 2013, we accepted the report and all those issues that you have identified today are being looked at. In terms of the FSB, I do not accept its comments in any regard as to the strategy that we have as a Government. On the third point, the Deputy Minister is taking that work forward.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister. That was not too difficult, was it? It was a much punchier session, and I think the scrutiny certainly was not diminished, despite the fact that we were very efficient with our time. I might get grumpy more often it if has such a direct result. That concludes today’s proceedings.
The meeting ended at 18:21.